Row over civic centre finances and call for Boris Johnson to quit at fiery full council

Labour and Tories go head-to-head at full council meeting, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre
Enfield Civic Centre

Councillors rowed over civic centre finances and Boris Johnson’s resignation during a fractious Enfield full council meeting on Wednesday.

Conservatives slammed council debt and spending levels while Labour called for the prime minister to quit immediately instead of staying in office until September, claiming the public had “lost confidence” in him.

The meeting saw the discussion of a report showing the council spent £198.6million in 2021-22 and planned to roll forward £26.6m that remained unspent due to delays. A further report showed the council’s borrowing stood at £1.015billion – up £85m since March last year.

Tim Leaver, cabinet member for finance and procurement, told the meeting the council’s spending included £3.38m on school programmes that would provide additional capacity for special educational needs places, £41m on the Meridian Water regeneration scheme and £3m on healthy streets programmes.

He added: “You will find investments across our borough, in our communities and in your wards, for all Enfield residents.”

But shadow cabinet member for finance James Hockney said budget rollovers meant “non-delivery of projects”, leading to increased costs as a result of delays, and criticised the lack of a plan to deal with inflationary challenges in the construction sector.

Cllr Hockney said taxpayers’ money was being spent on “loss-making” energy company Energetik and slammed spending on office furniture, which he said had risen almost tenfold in the last two years, arguing the cash should be invested in frontline services.

Conservative leader Alessandro Georgiou said the £24.5m being spent on debt interest was a “clear waste of taxpayer money” due to “financial negligence”. He claimed the money could have been used to provide 29,000 weeks of residential care for elderly residents or to clear 2.2 million fly-tips.

Cllr Georgiou also raised concerns over “£61m of loans outstanding under one year and the lack of clarity in the number of loans outstanding between one and five years”, warning that rising interest rates could put the council at risk of bankruptcy.

Labour councillors defended debt and spending levels, including the refurbishment of the civic centre. Leader Nesil Caliskan said the council needed to support its staff and update “a 1960s building that doesn’t meet the needs of residents”.

Cllr Caliskan said inflationary pressures had been built into financial planning and that Energetik was “doing better than its own predicted business plan”, adding that investments in the firm would help deliver future profits.

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On borrowing, the council leader said the investment it funded meant residents in Enfield “will see the levelling up that their government talks about but only Labour councillors deliver”. She pointed out that the council was borrowing at low interest rates and was “nothing like” other local authorities that had suffered “financial instabilities”.

During the second half of the meeting, councillors debated an urgent motion tabled by Cllr Caliskan calling on Boris Johnson to resign immediately. The PM has pledged to go after Conservative members elect a new leader, which is set to take place by 5th September.

The council leader said the prime minister “should just leave Downing Street now” and “stop squatting in a building that belongs to the taxpayer”. She added: “He is corrupt, and he is entitled, he is the worst prime minister this country has ever had, and there is simply no good reason why he should remain in office any longer than he has to”.

Her Labour colleagues added to the call for the PM to quit. Nicki Adeleke, who represents Ponders End, said that for three years residents had endured a prime minister who “never was fit for office”. She added: “He has damaged our institutions, he has damaged our reputation around the world, and goodness knows what more damage he will do if he is allowed to stay until September.”

Nia Stevens, who represents Highfield, said Johnson’s premiership had represented a “real low for the Conservative party”. She added: “He is exceptional in his ability to do harm, so the ordinary conventions do not apply – he must be removed immediately.”

But the Conservatives refused to support the motion. Cllr Georgiou listed the PM’s achievements, including delivering Brexit, the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, and supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia. He pointed out that the Enfield Labour group had lost seats during the local elections in May, adding “we gained the west [of the borough], and next time we’re coming for the rest”.

Chris Dey, who represents Grange Park, said councillors “should be talking about matters in Enfield”. After Cllr Caliskan accused the PM of being a liar, Cllr Dey said: “Do you think our voters did not know he was a liar? They knew that. They voted for him because they liked him, they voted for him because he was funny, they voted for him because he would get Brexit done, and he’s done it.”

Ridgeway councillor Joanne Laban argued that Johnson’s decision to stay in Number 10 until the election of a new Conservative leader followed the conventions of British politics.

In a rare moment of cross-party unity, Labour and the Conservatives both backed a motion tabled by Maria Alexandrou calling on the council to work on a campaign to raise awareness of cervical cancer and encourage women to attend screening tests.

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