Labour accused of 'power grab' move over committee appointments

Cllr Muhammed Butt, Leder of Brent Council, attended the festical (Pic: Francis Henry)

Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt - Credit: Frances Henry

The Labour Party in Brent has been accused of carrying out a “power grab” after filling key scrutiny posts with its own councillors rather than those from opposition parties. 

It was confirmed at last night’s annual meeting that the chairman and vice-chairman positions on both scrutiny committees would come from Labour. 

This is despite calls for more representation from opposition councillors, and the general custom that vice-chairmen are selected from minority parties. 

Opposition councillors were visibly shocked at council leader Muhammed Butt’s decision and it was suggested this was an attempt to shore up Labour’s position following this month’s local elections. 

On May 5, Labour held onto its healthy majority in Brent by returning 49 out of 57 councillors but it did lose some ground to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who now have five and three councillors, respectively. 

Lib Dem councillor Anton Georgiou expressed his disappointment following Cllr Butt’s move, describing it as “a sad day for democracy in Brent”.

He said: “I am saddened but not surprised by Brent Labour’s latest power grab. When local people voted just a few weeks ago, they returned fewer Labour councillors than in 2018 and the opposition doubled. 

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“The result of the election was not a mandate for less scrutiny in Brent, it was an instruction from residents for reform of scrutiny which will in turn ensure better delivery of services and better outcomes for all.

“Good governance requires strong scrutiny and the changes voted for by the Labour Group do nothing but undermine and weaken it.”

Former Labour councillor Roxanne Mashari, the previous chairman of the resources and public realm scrutiny committee, was also taken aback by the announcement. 

She tweeted: “Unfortunately the legislation around local authority scrutiny is woefully lacking and allows councils to effectively mark their own homework and cut back and control the scrutiny function. It’s truly absurd. Legislative change is very overdue in this area.”

The resources and public realm scrutiny committee will now be chaired by Cllr Rita Conneely, with Cllr Janice Long as vice-chairman. 

Cllr Ketan Sheth will continue to chair the community and wellbeing scrutiny committee, where he will be supported by Cllr Diana Collymore. 

Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, said: “The opposition were always going to oppose the proposals Labour put forward, that’s what they are here to do.

"We are grateful that residents in Brent gave Labour the mandate to represent them and that is exactly what Labour will do in the council.

"Despite their small size the opposition has been afforded ample opportunity to serve across a number of committees, including scrutiny and they have been offered more motions and debates at meetings of council. We look forward to working with them to build a better Brent."