Proof positive that Labour Sandwell council has learned nothing from past scandals and continues dubious practices was revealed last week.
The latest, Labour leader of the council was forced, at the last minute, to pull a contract which was due to be nodded through at the council’s cabinet meeting in order that the process by which the deal had been made should be investigated.
The deal was for taxi transport for the council worth some £20million and the lucky bidders were companies run by a Mr. Azeem Hafeez.
Mr. Hafeez should have been no stranger to those at the council negotiating the deal. He was a former council employee. He is a son of former Labour deputy council leader, ex councillor Mahboob Hussain.
Both father and son featured in the Wragge report which investigated dubious dealings and ultimately led to Hussain being dumped by his party.
Mr Hafeez was unable as a result of “ill health” to provide any evidence to the Wragge enquiry. His disability extended to an inability to answer written questions as proposed by the enquiry.
Nevertheless the enquiry was able to conclude that he had bought a commercial property from Sandwell council at Lodge Street, Smethwick without disclosing his employee status or his relationship with Hussain. Both were required declarations. Significantly, the Wragge report concluded “the price obtained by the council was substantially less than that which ought to have been achieved”
In respect of another council property, Mr. Hafeez was able to submit a bid for its purchase the day before it was advertised by the council for sale. Wragge concluded that this was the likely result of confidential information, including an indicative price, being shared with him.
Hussain, the report found, also attempted to use “his influence to persuade the council to propose the purchase of” land owned by Hafeez for social housing.
In “each and every one” of these transactions Wragge found Hafeez failed to disclose that he was a council employee and the son of a leading councillor.
It was the newly elected Conservative council group led by Cllr. David Fisher of Charlemont ward which brought the latest deal between the council and Mr. Hafeez to public attention and the Conservative MP for West Bromwich East, Nicola Richards who raised the issue in Parliament.
The electors of Sandwell, who returned two Conservative M.Ps at the last General Election and a tranche of Conservative councillors in the May local elections, have been given early evidence that now there will be effective scrutiny of Sandwell council’s functioning. For too long there has been what Wragge described as “officers becoming overly compliant with the will of elected members” and Labour councillors prepared to exploit this servility for their own ends. Nelsonian blind eyes have been turned on dubious dealings and pernicious practices have been nodded through and winked at.
The Labour party has no interest in having its dirty linen publicly washed. It was a cause of Cllr Yvonne Davies’, the previous Labour council leader, downfall that she showed an unhealthy interest in exposing past misdeeds. Ultimately, Conservative control of council is the only cast iron control on corruption. That, in the interest of the people of Sandwell, must be the objective.