9:09pm Wednesday 3rd September 2014
By Anna Slater
Mayor of Barnet Hugh Rayner has been cleared after he was accused of failing to declare his role as a landlord at council meetings and abusing his position as a councillor.
The Hale councillor was the subject of a four-month investigation over the allegations – and although he was cleared, the vote was not unanimous.
It took more than two hours for the committee, made up of three Conservative and two Labour members, to come to their decision at Hendon Town Hall, in The Burroughs.
The complaints, brought by GLA member for Barnet Andrew Dismore, related to five budget meetings and business overview and scrutiny meetings between 2010 and 2014.
Cllr Rayner owns a total of 19 properties across Barnet and he is also accused of helping a tenant recieve discretionary housing payments from Barnet Homes.
Although there was a motion to hold the meeting in private, which the Times Series disputed in a letter to the authority, council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius said there was “no reason” for this.
With Cllr Cornelius having previously spoken out in support of his Tory colleague, Labour leader Cllr Alison Moore said she was “uncomfortable” with allowing him to chair the meeting.
As they began discussing the matter, Cllr Cornelius said that although Cllr Rayner failed to declare his interests verbally, he had in fact made full written representations about his interests.
Labour councillor Barry Rawlings suggested looking at whether a “reasonable person” would think Cllr Rayner should have let the committees know about the interests before the meeting – to which Cllr Cornelius said: “That would be like a member of the AA contributing to a debate about a motoring matter.”
The panel’s independent member, Tanya Ossack, who did not have a vote, did raise concerns about Cllr Rayner’s failure to declare the interests.
She said: “Someone whose living seems to be from renting out property in the private sector has a great interest in how it blossoms.
“Any discussions by the council affect his personal livelihood. There have been full declarations in the register of interests, so anyone could find them easily.
“There’s a blurring between acting as a councillor and acting as a landlord. I don’t know if it’s much more than that. You just need to be a bit more careful.”
However, she added: “I don’t understand why someone who has an interest in something wouldn’t say so at a meeting.”
After Cllr Rayner was cleared, Cllr Cornelius admitted there is “a lot of greyness” about the council’s code of conduct.
In a statement at the end of the meeting, Cllr Rayner said: “I thank my peers for deliberating on this at length and coming to the conclusions they did.”
He also encouraged all landlords to join the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme – something which up until June, Cllr Rayner was not part of.
He added: “I would suggest also that I would commend Mr Dismore to join it, if he decides to let his house out."
Cllr Rayner withdrew this comment after being instructed to do so by Cllr Cornelius.
© Copyright 2001-2014 Newsquest Media Group