You Can't Trust Labour Seven times Bolton Labour Council tried to avoid scrutiny

From a £300,000 grant to a solicitors to a £90,000 payoff to a man that was in a job for only five months. Bolton Liberal Democrat Chair Kevin Walsh looks at seven times that your Bolton Labour led Council have tried to brush questionable actions under the carpet during 2016.



Back in 2013 the Bolton News issued a Freedom of Information request to determine details of any councillors who had been summonsed to court for failing to pay their council tax on time. At the time the Council revealed that two councillors had been summonsed but refused to name them.

After a year of continued calls for honesty by the paper, one of the councillors, Conservative Councillor for Bradshaw Mudasir Dean, came forward as one of those who had failed to pay on time. But it was to be a further two years and a long drawn out court battle at tax payer expense before we would know the name of the other anonymous councillor.

However in March of 2016 the Bolton News recorded success. A high court judgment ruled that Bolton Council MUST reveal the name and we finally found it was Labour Councillor for Rumworth, Ibrahim Ismail, whom the Council had been trying to protect. He was stripped of his £5,000 Special Responsibility Allowance (although he had already collected over £50,000 in allowances since the initial report in 2013).

But it didn't end there. Furious residents demanded to know how much had been spent by the Council on trying to protect the Cllr from exposure. A Freedom of Information request by Bolton Lib Dem Chair, Kevin Walsh, revealed that over £8,000 of tax payer cash was spent on fighting to keep the Councillors name anonymous.

Questions that still need to be answered

  • Did either Councillor Ibrahim or Cllr Dean vote in favour of a freeze on council tax in 2011 and 2013 during the time in which they were in arrears?

Whilst other councils across the country were striving to find ways to scrimp and save to ensure front-line services could continue, here in Bolton it seems the Labour led Council was trying it's best to haemorrhage money as quickly as possible, In 2015 they decided the best way of doing this was to employ a man, Paul Najsarek, as chief-executive for just five months and then give him a massive payoff.

But it wasn't that simple to get to the bottom of this story. For several months Bolton Council refused point blank to reveal whether Paul Najsarek had received any pay-off as a result of leaving his position and it took mounting pressure from the Bolton News and opposition councillors to finally get the answers residents were looking for.

The size of the payoff was shocking to say the least. A man who had apparently left his job by choice had managed to land himself a £90,000 payoff. The story hit the national headlines and in Autumn Bolton Council admitted that the contract had been flawed and didn't include a probationary period.

Questions that still need to be answered

  • If Paul Najsarek did indeed leave his position by choice - why was he given a payoff at all?

Back in November 2015 your Lib Dem Councillors backed calls for an Independent inquiry into planning amid concerns Labour councillors were block voting in order to push through certain applications. To everyone's surprise Bolton Labour voted in favour of the motion at Council and the inquiry received the green light,

And then the Labour backtracking began.

Concerned that the Inquiry would be a whitewash, Lib Dem Leader Cllr Hayes outlined terms of reference that he felt would allow for real in-depth scrutiny of the process and included provision for the public to provide evidence independently. But when details were revealed of the inquiry in May, it was clear that Bolton Labour had decided to stack the cards in their own favour and that the public would not be allowed to independently provide evidence and everything was to be submitted via councillors or Senior Council Officers.

Then things became weird. in August an "outraged" Conservative party brought to council a motion to council which - in the information distributed before the meeting read:

"Having already taken a decision to hold an independent Planning Enquiry, I propose that this council also confirms the importance of this enquiry be transparent and open to all, with members of the public being given the opportunity to submit evidence to the panel, which the panel can choose to investigate further if they so wish.

In order for the residents to have confidence in this enquiry, members of the public must be given the opportunity to contribute.”

However, the papers distributed at the Council meeting had been amended to remove any reference to members of the public providing evidence. What followed was an ill-thought out tweet by the Lib Dem social media team which read "Has a backroom deal had been done between Bolton Labour and the Bolton Conservatives to keep the public from gacing their say on planning?" This prompted cries of outrage from Labour and Tory councillors with Cllr Critchley stating "“To indicate that this council would stoop so low as to do a backroom deal on something as important as this is unforgivable and I will never accept that."

The result was a planning inquiry that allowed just two weeks for people to submit evidence and an initial report that the Labour executive have all seen but still hasn't been released to the public. We are still waiting for the final report, which we will insist is made public in its entirety. However, we suspect that the terms of reference given by Labour will have prevented it looking at the deeper issues which really concern people.

Questions that still need to be answered

  • Why did the Conservative party decide to amend their motion at the last moment?
  • Why were the public prevented from presenting evidence independently?
  • Why were only a couple of weeks provided for evidence to be collated and presented to the inquiry?



In September a controversial application for a community centre at St Paul’s Mill in Barbara Street, Daubhil (that had already been deferred several times despite planning officers initially recommending approval) was removed from the agenda at the last moment leading to an outcry from local councillors and the resignation of Chief Planning Officer Jon Berry.

The application itself was a contentious issue for local residents but it was the way in which the application was handled that raises the most questions.

At the meeting on 21st September, the first meeting that the Local Government Association who were carrying out the planning inquiry was supposed to be present, the application had mysteriously disappeared from the agenda, leading to confusion by councillors, protesters and supporters who had thought that the meeting would finally get to scrutinise the application.

Following this the Council's Head of Planning, Jon Berry, was allegedly blamed for what had occurred - despite being out of the county on holiday at the time - which led to his resignation.

Questions that still need to be answered

  • Why was the application prevented from being discussed at this meeting?
  • Why was the head of planning taken to task for a decision he wasn't present to make?



Traditionally, Council meetings that take place in May are largely a ceremonial affair where general business is conducted and the new Mayor formally takes their position. Which is why it was surprising to see the Bolton Labour Party bringing forward significant changes to the Council’s Standing Orders (the rules by which council meetings are conducted).

The changes, passed by a unanimous vote from the Bolton Labour party and supported by the Conservatives, reversed a decision passed earlier in the year in a motion from the Liberal Democrats to allow press and public attendance at Executive Cabinet meetings. Furthermore, Labour also banned the smaller parties from attending Executive Cabinet meetings - meaning even less scrutiny - and implemented a limit to the amount of time councillors were given to debate motions

But perhaps even more concerning is the way these changes were implemented. Local Government law and the Council’s Constitution stipulates that all items and reports for a Council meeting must be published well in advance. However, on this occasion most of the reports were received by Councillors only a day before or the evening before making them potentially illegal.

Questions that still need to be answered

  • Was the way in which these standing orders were changed against the law?
  • Why have Bolton labour forbidden smaller parties from scrutinising decisions?



In late December, Liberal Democrat Town Councillor David Wilkinson revealed that Bolton Council had sold off 110 and 112 Market Street, Westhoughton using executive powers by Cllr Cliff Morris.

In one of Cllr Morris' many closed door council meetings the land and buildings on the site were sold to an anonymous recipient without any questions asked.

Not content with selling of the land on the quiet however, Bolton Labour then decided to then accuse Councillor Wilkinson of spreading lies with one activist suggesting this was "political tripe".

Cllr Wilkinson of course responded with an appropriate 'mic drop' of a response - a copy of the minutes of the executive cabinet meeting outlining the sale of said land.

Questions that still need to be answered

  • Why were these buildings sold using emergency powers?
  • Who has the buildings been sold to?
  • How much has the council received for these buildings?


Last but not least, the decision to give a £300,000 grant to Asons solicitors.

Much has been reported, questions have been asked. But we are still none the wiser as to why Councillor Cliff Morris decided to give over quarter of a million pounds to a company with a £300,000 tax bill, run by a man who could afford six £150,000 cars in 4 years.

Whats more. The answers provided by Cllr Morris and the Council seem to change and contradict themselves on a daily basis leaving even more questions.

Questions that still need to be answered

  • Who was the grant given to - Asons Solicitors, a tenant of Newspaper House or Asons Towers, the company that Owns Newspaper house?
  • Why was the grant given by emergency powers in November if the discussions had been taking place since January?
  • Did any due diligence take place regarding the appropriateness of the company to receive the grant?
  • Was the £300,000 tax bill disclosed as part of this process?
  • Should the Council be giving such a large sum of money to a private firm whilst making deep cuts to front-line services and losing over 200 members of staff?
  • Have nay of the directors or management of Asons ever been members of the Bolton Labour party or have the Labour party ever received donations from the Asons directors?
  • Can the money be reclaimed if Asons Solicitors go into administration - taking into account the building itself is owned by a different company.

Needless to say 2017 will be a year of questions with your Lib Dem team continuing to fight for transparency.



Created with images by Ben Sutherland - "Bolton town hall" • PublicDomainPictures - "mixture currencies finance" • Terry Wha - "Bolton Town Hall" • shawnzrossi - "If you're losing the game, change the rules"

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