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Islington Council turns cash crisis into political gaffe by blocking Green councillor from emergency meeting

PUBLISHED: 07:00 02 November 2017 | UPDATED: 14:08 22 November 2017

Islington Council chief executive Lesley Seary, left, has apologised after Cllr Caroline Russell, right, was 'uninvited' from budget talks by Ms Seary's supposedly neutral office. Pictures: Catherine Davison/Polly Hancock

Islington Council chief executive Lesley Seary, left, has apologised after Cllr Caroline Russell, right, was 'uninvited' from budget talks by Ms Seary's supposedly neutral office. Pictures: Catherine Davison/Polly Hancock

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Islington councillors have been summoned to an emergency budget meeting to discuss making a fresh round of cuts, the Gazette can reveal.

Islington Council suffered a £21.5million government funding cut last year. Picture: Laura Nolte/Flickr/CC BY 2.0Islington Council suffered a £21.5million government funding cut last year. Picture: Laura Nolte/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

A personal memo apparently from council chief exec Lesley Seary, signed simply “Lesley”, called all 48 members to the special briefing on November 20. Ms Seary has since claimed it was sent by a member of her staff without her knowledge, though the meeting is set to go ahead.

The memo read: “After 8 years of government cuts the council’s budget is under severe pressure. We have previously agreed savings for next year but due to severe budget pressure we will need to find additional savings to balance next year’s budget. We can’t leave the new council coming in June an impossible task by just kicking the can down the road.

“We will have to have a number of savings proposals [...] for the star chamber to look at.”

To make matters worse, the council immediately turned a cash crisis into a political gaffe by “uninviting” sole opposition Cllr Caroline Russell (Green) from the meeting – because she isn’t Labour.

The town hall has now admitted Ms Seary’s supposedly neutral office was assisting the Labour group in calling the meeting, and shouldn’t have done so.

After Cllr Russell accepted the invitation, Ms Seary’s PA replied to her: “I am afraid the email was sent to you in error. Please can you decline the meeting request. Apologies for any confusion caused.”

Though Ms Seary claims she didn’t send the invite, a furious Cllr Russell has lodged a formal complaint. She says it’s another example of the council living up to its “one-party state” reputation. Islington’s other 47 councillors are Labour.

Cllr Russell, for Highbury East, told the Gazette: “It’s absolutely not acceptable to invite Labour councillors and not me. It’s another example of this one-party state in Islington.

Cllr Caroline Russell (Green) is the sole opposition member on Islington Council. Picture: Steve PostonCllr Caroline Russell (Green) is the sole opposition member on Islington Council. Picture: Steve Poston

“If it was composed by a staff member, it is almost more worrying as it indicates a complete lack of understanding of governance in the council.

“The average person in Islington wants to know the council is being held accountable. This email is the smoking gun. It shows checks and balances are not being protected.”

She is planning to turn up to the meeting regardless.

The blunder is made worse by the use of the term “star chamber”, which generally refers to secretive proceedings held behind closed doors.

A council spokeswoman said: “Cllr Russell was sent an invitation in error to a Labour group meeting. The invitation should not have been sent by the chief executive’s office as council staff should not assist with political meetings.

“This was a mistake, and staff have been reminded they must not get involved at all in assisting any political group with organising meetings. The chief executive has apologised to Cllr Russell for this mistake.”

Islington Council has been ravaged by government funding cuts – it suffered £21.5million for the current finanical year – and the need for “additional savings” is a sign of growing pressure ahead of the local elections set for June 2018.

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