Despite whinging on about no money and making massive cuts to public services in Ealing, Labour leader Cllr Julian Bell is able to find enough money to retain his own personal ‘slush fund’. Each year he allocates himself a hefty £70k to spend where he likes.
Ealing:RottenBorough can reveal that £10k of this public money went into the pockets of Harjinder Singh Randhawa otherwise known as Harry, a mate of Bell’s boss, Ealing Southall MP Virendra Sharma. Worryingly, we can also reveal that somewhat unusually there is no audit trail following this public money. Other than handing over the cheque to Sharma’s mate at Bell’s request Ealing Council has confirmed they have no records or receipts to show if or how the money was actually spent.
Responses to Freedom of Information requests reveal that in May 2012 Cllr Bell sent an urgent email to officers asking them to make out a cheque for £10k to A&H Events Ltd. The money was said to be for a community Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Party in Southall Park. Oddly, Ealing Council did just that and Bell arranged for A&H Events Ltd to come to Ealing Town Hall the next day to collect the cheque. A&H events Ltd (now dissolved) was run by Harry Randhawa. Randhawa was also the events organiser at the time for Southall Football Club which has strong links to Bell’s boss Virendra Sharma MP. Sharma has been the Club’s President and his son, Sanjeev (who also works for Ealing Council) is the club’s Managing Director/Treasurer.
It should be remembered that Bell has a second job working as researcher for Virendra Sharma MP for which he is paid a second salary. The fact that Bell continued to work for Sharma after he took on the full time role of leader of Ealing Council is seen as a controversial conflict of interest which causes Bell to favour Southall over other parts of the borough. Bell was heavily criticised in 2010 for finding £5m to allocate for a car park ‘white elephant’ in Southall that was not needed whilst simultaneously closing several libraries and cutting front line services to vulnerable residents. The critics have been proved right and the loss-making car park is now having to be sold off. Critics say Bell is controlled by Sharma, who, it is claimed, demanded the car park from Bell to please business men in his constituency whose backing he was after. A similar controversy arose in 2014 when the Khalsa Primary School in Southall and Southall Football Club both lay claims to Norwood Hall Sports Ground. Bell, who was on the board gave the ground to SFC but there followed great outrage and fierce complaints that due process was not followed and that SFC got the ground because of their links with Bell’s boss Virendra Sharma.
When public services are being cut to the bone and local authorities having to account for every penny spent it is disturbing that Ealing Council leader has access to public funds that he can get his hands on without providing invoices or receipts and it’s murky that he’s handing it to close associates of someone who pays him a salary.
Despite much public scepticism in the wake of the expenses scandal over the practice of a minority of MPs hiring family members at the expense of the taxpayer, Ealing North MP Stephen Pound continues to keep his wife on the payroll on a pay scale £20- £25k p.a.
In the current climate of severe pressures on public funds the lack of transparency around hiring relatives is considered bad practice to say the least. The public cannot be assured of getting value for money when the normal checks and balances are by-passed when a position with an MP is awarded because of a familial relationship rather than to the best person for the job. And can all MPs be trusted not to overpay their own relatives, or keep proper tabs on the hours they work, especially when they have a pecuniary interest if it is a spouse whose earnings directly add to their own household income?
When questioned about what Mrs Pound does for her money Mr Pound refused to give any details whatsoever and refused to share the job description. However, IPSA did forward it on the grounds that a relative receiving public finds while working for an MP is a matter of public interest and we have printed the job description below. It is clear that Mrs Pound’s role is supposed to be to support Mr Pound’s caseworker(s) and accordingly she is paid for duties she is supposed to perform such as liaising with the local authority and various other organisations in relation to Mr Pound’s casework. Yet in a response to a freedom of information request to Ealing Council they confirmed that they have never had any communication from Mrs Pound whatsoever regarding her husband’s casework. Moreover, nor have other public bodies the MP’s casework would involve such as the Department of Work and Pensions which deals with matters relating to benefits, or the Home Office which deals with matters relating to immigration, both of which form a significant chunk of MPs’ casework in the London constituencies.
So we are left wondering exactly what Mrs Pound does do for her £20-25,000 per year public salary. The only role anyone has heard of her doing is showing constituents in to a room to see her husband at some of the surgeries he holds. Stephen Pound holds six surgeries a month; one hour long one every Monday morning and one two hour long twice a month on Friday evenings. Supposing Mrs Pound were to accompany him to each one, and there is no evidence to suggest she does, that would make a total of 8 hours per month, or 2 hours weekly. Can a salary of £20-25,000 p.a really be justifiable here?
GENERAL JOB DESCRIPTION M POUND
Job Title: To support Secretary/Caseworker for the Member of Parliament for Ealing North
Responding to written and telephone casework. Investigate issues raised in casework correspondence and follow up cases
To ensure an efficient turnover of correspondence
Liaise with Local Authority and agencies in Ealing in relation to constituency casework.
Maintain an up-to-date paper/computer filing system
Ensure that telephone messages are passed on efficiently
Computer Literacy – knowledge of Microsoft desirable
Good typing skills
Letter writing skills
Polite telephone manner
Good interpersonal skills
UPDATE: The IPSA consultation on expenses also revealed that family members employed by MPs earn an average of £5,600 more than other staff and have seen their salaries rise at twice the rate of other workers.
Freedom of information (FoI) requests have revealed that despite pocketing thousands of pounds in allowances from Ealing Council, funded by people who pay their council tax, three Ealing councillors were in arrears with their own council tax last year to an extent that impacted on their ability to do their job. The Council has revealed that it had to take two of them to court to recover the tax while the third one coughed up eventually.
However, despite being in arrears themselves, all three attended a council meeting where a decision was taken to remove financial support for payment of council tax from Ealing residents on low incomes. At the meeting on 5/1/16 none of the three councillors disclosed their council tax arrears and each one took part in the vote to revise the local council tax support scheme.
Under s106 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992, members of a local authority must not attend meetings where matters relating to council tax are under consideration if they owe council tax that has remained unpaid for two months or more, or where they do, they should disclose it and not vote. All three of the councillors owed two months or more council tax on 5/1/16 and voted. It is believed this was in contravention of the law and the matter has now been referred to Ealing’s Chief Executive, Paul Nasjarek, for possible action.
FoI responses reveal that a Northolt councillor shockingly owed almost a full year’s council tax which they did not disclose when taking part in the contentious vote to withdraw support from some of Ealing’s poorest residents.
Further, the arrears prevented the same councillor from attending the Council’s yearly council tax setting meeting on 23/2/16, meaning they were unable to carry out one of their most important duties as an elected representative.
According to Ealing Council court proceedings were taken against the Northolt councillor and another, said to represent Ealing Common ward, and costs were awarded against both of them. The third councillor was said to represent Ealing Broadway ward. Following court action and FOI requests all three have since cleared their arrears.
Council tax is needed to pay for vital public services. For a councillor to be unable to fulfil the duties they were elected to fulfil because they haven’t paid their council tax is shameful, particularly when other council tax payers are paying them to carry out those duties. Voting to change council tax collection policy to make others pay more when they haven’t paid themselves is rank hypocrisy and hits a new low for politicians.
The councillors involved are;
- Labour’s Cllr Natasha Ahmed Sheikh, representing Northolt Mandeville ward who received approximately £16,000 in allowances the year she failed to pay her council tax on time
- Lib Dem’s Cllr John Ball, representing Ealing Common ward who received approximately £10,000 in allowances that year
- Cllr Seema Kumar, representing Ealing Broadway ward who received approximately £16,000 in allowances that year.
Residents on the Ealing Today forum are questioning how the council leader, Cllr Julian Bell, is still holding onto a scarce ‘social home’ some 9 years after he bought a private home in a neighbouring road in Acton, now worth £1m. Bell and his wife are secure tenants of housing association A2Dominion, however, in June 2007 they purchased a 5 bedroomed, three-storey house for £585,000 and residents want to know why such a drastic change in the Bell’s circumstances did not lead to A2Dominion taking the publicly subsidised home off the Bells and giving it to one of the thousands of families in genuine need. It seems Cllr Bell claims he lives in the private house with his daughter but says he needs the social house for his elderly, disabled mother-in-law. He also claims that since 2007 he’s been trying to make the private house suitable for the elderly parent to live in too and in March 2009 he submitted plans to install downstairs washroom facilities. However, 9 years later this has still not been done and the housing association continues to let him away with keeping his second home, depriving a needy family of a 4 bedroomed home while Bell makes money letting surplus bedrooms to students.
Is this the result of another conflict of interest concerning the council leader? It turns out his social landlord A2Dominion is also one of the property developers sponsoring MIPIM, the controversial jolly in Cannes, that Cllr Bell enjoys going to each year.
Private Eye reports;
Council leader and officers jet off to a property shindig in Cannes with their expenses paid by the very developers who want to regenerate sunny Ealing.
The story refers to the council leader, Julian Bell, and several officers jetting off to the south of France to get to know wealthy property developers, ostensibly to bring their business to the borough of Ealing. However residents, already outraged at the nature and scale of recent developments Cllr Bell and his Labour planning committee members have given consent to, are voicing concerns that question the probity of it all. Bell, they say, is too close to the very developers whose approved schemes are cause for concern and residents say Ealing’s planning and regeneration functions should be separated to avoid conflicts of interest. At present the council leader retains executive power for both functions under his own personal portfolio which has stoked fears that the developer funded sponsorships, jet setting and expenses he likes to take advantage of could potentially impact on the council leader’s decisions. After all, as they rightly say, there is no such thing as a free lunch!