Leaders’ Panel: Rayner case – Tories’ whitewash shows political bias in complaints process

Following Wednesday night’s Leaders’ Panel where a politically weighted committee with a Conservative majority voted to clear the Mayor of Barnet, Cllr Hugh Rayner, of any wrongdoing in serious allegations made against him, Labour Councillors have slammed the process as being politically biased.

At Wednesday night’s meeting Labour councillors showed integrity in the process and found that on a small number of the allegations made against Cllr Rayner, no breach occurred, however the Conservatives whitewashed the process by voting in a partisan manner over every issue despite clear evidence suggesting a breach of the code had occurred.

In addition, Conservative Leader of the Council, Richard Cornelius, used his casting vote as Chair of the Panel to clear Cllr Rayner – even though he had already publicly expressed a view on the matter before seeing the evidence.

Labour councillors believe that the decision by every Conservative councillor on the Panel to clear Cllr Rayner on every single count despite the clear evidence is irrational.

Indeed, the independent member of the Panel without voting rights, Tanya Ossack – a senior barrister – said at the meeting: “I personally don’t understand why anybody who has a pecuniary interest in private rented property wouldn’t say so at a meeting.”
 
“It’s a pecuniary interest that should be declared when such matters could affect it [income for Cllr Rayner].”

Labour councillors voted against the scrapping of the former independently chaired Standards Committee – a committee that was also not politically weighted - warning that the process would become less transparent and politically biased.

The result of the Leaders’ Panel on Wednesday night shows that Labour was right to raise these concerns, and that the Panel is unable to impartially investigate allegations into Conservative members when complaints are referred to it by members of the public.

Cllr Moore requested a review of the makeup of the Leaders’ Panel at the Constitution, Ethics & Probity committee on Tuesday evening, but this was rejected by the Conservative Chair of that committee, Cllr John Marshall, who is also a member of the Leaders Panel.

Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Alison Moore said: “Cllr Rawlings and I attended this Panel with the best of intentions in good faith and approached the case in an impartial manner, finding that Cllr Rayner did not breach the letter of the code of conduct in some of the allegations made against him, however it has become clear that the Conservative members on this Panel do not approach these meetings with the same intentions.

“The Standards process has been completely discredited and undermined by the Tories action and public confidence in the process will be in tatters as a result.

“This is what happens when you replace an independently chaired Standards Committee with a politically weighted panel – justice is not seen to be done and that is damaging to the whole process.

“We have always argued against the Tories’ wholesale dismantling of the former Independent Standards Committee, and now you can see that the integrity of the system has been lost in that process.

“We need to return to a system that is not politically weighted and open to abuse, and that members of the public can have complete confidence in.”

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