The story regarding new Mayor of Barnet Hugh Rayner and his business interests has taken on a new level of gravity today, after news broke that Assembly Member Andrew Dismore has now submitted a 19 page complaint to Maryellen Salter, the Monitoring Officer for Barnet Council. A press release reads as follows:
Dismore presents formal complaint to Barnet Council Monitoring Officer
Following his exchange with London Mayor Boris Johnson at last week’s Mayor’s Question Time, Andrew Dismore, Labour London Assembly member and parliamentary candidate for Hendon has today submitted a detailed 19 page complaint to Barnet Council’s Monitoring Officer concerning Cllr Hugh Rayner, the Mayor of Barnet.
Mr Dismore’s complaint, which cannot be published for legal reasons, raises a number of issues concerning Cllr Rayner’s conduct of his property and private lettings business, his position as a councillor, and his registration and declaration of interests concerning the business.
Mr Dismore said: “ By his own admissions so far, Cllr Rayner has a case to answer concerning the way he conducts his business. Last week, I wrote to him, putting a number of other additional issues and asking for his response, which has not been forthcoming so far.
“In the circumstances, I believe these matters need to be investigated by the Barnet Council Monitoring Officer, to establish whether or not there has been any wrongdoing on Cllr Rayner’s part.
“I hope that the Monitoring Officer will conduct a swift investigation as it is not fair to the people of Barnet that these serious matters should be hanging over the Borough’s “First Citizen” , the Mayor of Barnet, for longer than is absolutely necessary. We need to see an early ruling upon one way or the other promptly.
t. “For my part, I have made clear to the Monitoring Officer that I am available to explain the detail to the Council of the complaint and to produce the evidence I have in support of the complaint. I hope that Cllr Rayner will offer his full co-operation, too.
“I have also submitted a complaint concerning Cllr Hart cornering the matters I raised at MQT relating to him.”
Earlier today, the local Times group published comments from Barnet Tory leader Richard Cornelius here in which he chose to defend his colleague from the criticisms levelled at him, despite admissions by Rayner himself last week that he had accepted that he had made mistakes in some of his dealings with tenants, which were now corrected - as reported in an earlier Times article here :
"He claims to have removed the clause about raising rent earlier this year as he now “appreciates they are non-enforceable”, but not could answer (sic) when the change took place.
And he no longer asks witnesses to pre-sign contracts – he admitted he admitted it was done on various occasions to “save time and trouble” but now appreciates it is incorrect".
Asked about the high rent charged to tenants, some of whom receive housing benefit, by the MayorRichard Cornelius states:
“Market rent is what you can get something for. If that’s the amount of money he can get for the houses, it’s market rent. I don’t see that as overcharging to the detriment of the public purse.”
Asked if Councillor Rayner should resign over the matter, Cornelius was clear:
“No of course he shouldn’t resign over this.”
Richard Cornlius was equally supportive, as readers may recall, when his former colleague Brian Coleman was involved in an incident in which he assaulted a female resident in the street, and indeed was loath to see him suspended from the party, until intervention from CCHQ took the decision out of his hands.
Of course Cornelius admitted when he was asked to comment that he was not acquainted with all the facts: asked about the legality of some of the Mayor's actions he states:
"I don’t know, it doesn’t sound illegal. I don’t know the details of it so I can’t make a judgement ..."
Now that a formal complaint has been submitted to the Monitoring Officer about the case, including now, it seems, points raised regarding the declaration and registration of interests, the Tory leader will be able to judge for himself the truth of the matter.
As this post is being written, the local Times enlarges here on some of the new allegations and now reports rather extraordinary claims -that Rayner failed to declare the fact that he is a landlord when voting on controversial housing policies. The Times claims:
Cllr Rayner is the former chairman of the business management overview and scrutiny committee, where councillors voted and debated the council’s housing strategy.
Despite receiving the subsidy directly from Barnet Borough Council, he did not make his colleagues on the committee aware of this.
The article alleges that at two meetings in June and July 2010, Cllr Rayner failed to make appropriate declarations of interest.
As it stands on the facts reported so far, it seems that 84% of the readers polled in the local Times feel that Rayner should resign.
What happens next, however, will depend on the Monitoring Officer, and we all await her decision with great interest.
We also remember the decision, just before the election, which led to a Labour councillor being referred to the police on the basis of an accusation of taxdodging - which turned out to be untrue - and we are confident that the same high standard of stringency will be applied in all allegations regarding members that are submitted for her consideration.
In public life, we expect fairness to those accused, as well as transparency over any investigation of alleged wrongdoing, don't we?
Hugh Rayner was elected in marginal Hale, a ward hotly contested by Tories and Labour alike in the recent election. Tory control of the borough hangs by a thread, and clearly the ruling party will not gladly agree to a by election, should any councillor in any ward resign, for whatever reason.
In this borough, the curse of living in interesting times is always clear to see: we live it every day, here in Broken Barnet, do we not, where nothing is ever quite what it seems, or what it promises to be?
To be updated.