Hackney councillors attacked over attendance

A HACKNEY councillor has attended only a quarter of council meetings and 17 of his colleagues have attended fewer than 70%.

The figures have been compiled by Hackney First, a new community activism group. It identified only three councillors who attended all meetings.

Every Hackney councillor is entitled to a basic allowance of £9,943.50 a year, so long as he/she attends at least two meetings.

Hackney First founder Mustafa Korel said: “Lordship ward is the least represented ward at council meetings, with an average 42% absence, followed by Victoria, average 40% absence, then New River, average 34% absence.”

It was “beyond belief” that such a level of non-attendance continued without any intervention. Korel, who recently quit Hackney Green Party, added: “If we were absent from our jobs 75% of the time in six months, we’d get a good talking-to by our bosses.”

The three political parties represented on Hackney council have been asked by this site to comment.

Abraham Jacobson, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Cazenove ward, said: “The attendance records often show only part of what goes on. Many meetings are just talking shops at which no decisions are made and in my opinion are a waste of time and money. Full council meetings are no exception: we have to listen to politically inspired motions from the Labour Party.

“I believe that the LibDem group has an excellent attendance record. The only absences are because we have only three councillors and a massive caseload, and meetings clash.

“I, and councillors Ian Sharer and Dawood Akhoon, in particular, are often dealing with emergency casework regarding housing or social services.

“The LibDem group has a policy of people before politics.” If that meant missing non-essential meetings to help a resident, that was how it should be.

Hackney Labour said: “Hackney First’s claims about low attendance at meetings by Labour councillors are misleading and show a poor understanding of the varied roles that councillors fulfil while representing residents.”

The figures covered only town-tall meetings and omitted the many meetings councillors attend in their wards, including tenants’ and residents’ associations, friends’ groups, community advisory panels and meetings with the police. Councillors balanced town-tall meetings alongside community work and family commitments, usually on top of full-time employment.

The member continued: “Of the councillors named for low attendance, two have had recent health problems — meaning it was agreed that time off from some meetings was appropriate — one has been on maternity leave and three others have become parents in the last year.

“Hackney First’s partisan and biased approach, which is understandable given the site is run by a former Green Party candidate, is also exemplified by focussing on Labour councillors and ignoring the fact that 66% of the Lib Dem group and 60% of Tories have poor attendance records, compared with 20% of the Labour group.”

Leading London Tory politician Andrew Boff said: “You can’t judge councillors by whether or not they’ve just been at a meeting. To look at only meeting attendance records is to misunderstand local democracy and to ignore how councillors represent residents’ issues.

“Under the model of government in Hackney, a full council meeting has extraordinary little power.”

The real power was the way in which councillors took up the things that mattered to people in their ward. More significant, added Boff, who leads the Conservative Party on the Greater London Authority, was the number of councillors who did not live in a ward yet claimed to speak for it, as shown on this map.

David Altheer 170313

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