Nesil Caliskan declines to say ‘sorry’ over bullying of colleague and attempt to compromise scrutiny process, reports James Cracknell
The leader of Enfield Council has yet to apologise to two councillors over multiple code of conduct breaches – despite being told to do so by the local authority’s legal department.
Following two separate investigations it was revealed in June that Nesil Caliskan had been found guilty of breaching the code of conduct – with one concluding the leader’s behaviour “amounted to bullying” and another that she attempted to “compromise the impartiality” of the council’s scrutiny process.
Councillor Caliskan was asked by the council’s monitoring officer and deputy monitoring officer to write two formal letters of apology to fellow Labour councillors Yasemin Brett and Derek Levy in relation to her code of conduct breaches. Cllr Brett has yet to receive any such letter, while a recent email sent to Cllr Levy failed to include the word ‘sorry’.
In Cllr Caliskan’s initial statement made following the ruling by the director of law and governance that she had “failed to treat Cllr Brett with respect” and bullied her, the council leader declined to apologise and instead claimed her behaviour did not amount to bullying. The independent solicitor who investigated the incident between the pair had rejected counter-claims from Cllr Caliskan that Cllr Brett had “instigated a smear campaign”.
A second investigation found that Cllr Caliskan had again breached the code of conduct – this time by suggesting the chairman of the overview and scrutiny committee meet with her regularly to ensure he was “more closely aligned to key decisions” on Labour group priorities. The committee’s role is to hold the council’s decision-makers to account, and it had voted to challenge proposed changes to bin collections, but the investigating solicitor concluded the council leader “overrode the obligation to accept the role of overview and scrutiny”.
Cllr Caliskan wrote to Cllr Levy last week in what she described as her “formal response” to the conduct ruling. In the email, seen by the Dispatch, the council leader said: “A genuine offer to discuss Labour group policy commitments, which we had collectively agreed to as candidates and elected members, was something which I believed that I was entitled to do as leader of the Labour group and the council.
“As the elected leader of the council, I am responsible for ensuring the implementation of our manifesto and our Labour group policy commitments. My offer was made in a spirit of comradeship, marking the very relevant fact that we were members of the same Labour group, and acknowledging that the job description of scrutiny states: ‘All Labour scrutiny members shall refrain from public and personal criticism of other Labour members, whatever their position in the council or group’.
“Therefore, I believed that my communication with you both respected our separate roles, but also our shared and joint commitment to the manifesto and commitments of Enfield Labour group. My primary concern was that you as chair of scrutiny should be provided with the most accurate information about our council’s policy and development. I regret if this intention has been misconstrued or was capable of being misconstrued.”
Cllr Levy said in response to that he “didn’t see the word sorry or feel any sense of contrition”. He previously stated that Cllr Caliskan had “broken the established principles of democracy” and that her pattern of recent behaviour “has the potential to cause reputational damage to the council”.
In another example of the huge division between the council’s leadership team and many other Labour councillors, the former group chair Dinah Barry has also revealed that she resigned earlier this year because of “persistent bullying by a small number of people” and added that “hard-working councillors are being abused”.
The Labour Party has dismissed calls from several local councillors to take disciplinary action in light of Cllr Caliskan’s multiple code of conduct breaches. A spokesperson said it was “an internal council matter”.
The council declined to comment.