Labour councillors in Haringey LBC have been warned they may face disciplinary action if they use the call-in procedure in the cabinet and scrutiny governance model.
The unusual move follows controversy over the council’s decision to pursue a deal under which ownership of council land and buildings worth £2bn would be transferred into the Haringey Development Vehicle owned 50:50 by Haringey and multinational developer Lendlease.
A scrutiny committee, on which the ruling Labour group has a majority, issued a highly critical report, concluding that the HDV carried “very significant risks” and should be halted.
The decision to go ahead with the development vehicle was called-in by the opposition Liberal Democrats and separately by 10 dissident Labour councillors, though the cabinet resolved to proceed.
A letter to the 10 from the Labour whips’ team has been posted on a local website by Lib Dem councillor Clive Carter, but confirmed to LGC as genuine.
It stated: “In an email to all Labour group members last November about participation in call-ins, it was made clear that any members involved in any subsequent call-ins would be asked to meet with the whips to discuss their actions.
“The whips team decided not to take individual disciplinary action at the time and instead members were collectively warned that calling in decisions which are based on agreed group policy is not acceptable and any further attempts to do so would be taken seriously.
“[The HDV] is now the second call-in during this municipal year…and we therefore have no choice but to take the matter forward in accordance with Labour Party disciplinary procedures.”
The 10 are understood to have been interviewed by Labour whips but no decision has yet been taken on any action.
Chief whip Adam Jogee works for Terrapin Communications whose clients include Lend Lease. He is understood to have stood down as chief whip this week. Cllr Jogee declared his role at Terrapin in Haringey’s register of members’ interests and there is no suggestion of impropriety. He did not respond to LGC’s requests for comment.
Other councils differ in their approach to call-in. Rules at Labour-run Newcastle City Council, for example, state: “No party whip should be applied to call-in meetings.”
Guidance issued by the Labour government in 2002, when scrutiny was in its infancy, recommended “overview and scrutiny should not be subject to the party whip”.
Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) director for local accountability Ed Hammond said party groups had to operate disciplinary arrangements, but “there is usually a flexibility applied to members’ activities at scrutiny which gives them more freedom – because the leadership recognises scrutiny’s constitutional role and the need for it to be detached from party politics.”
He added: “However, circumstances will occasionally arise where an issue is of such contention, and/or ‘lines’ on an issue have been discussed in group, in such a way as to provoke the leadership to use the whip to shut down any further discussion of the topic – as has happened here.”
A CfPS guide written by Mr Hammond describes call-in as “a key check and balance in the leader/cabinet system of governance – a long-stop that, in theory, prevents the overweening exercise of power by cabinet.”