Back in 2005, after becoming the Labour candidate for Hackney South and Shoreditch, Meg Hillier worked in Tower Hamlets Council press office. At the time complaints were made because if Meg had been a normal council employee she would not have been allowed to hold the position.
But she worked for an agency which meant she was not strictly a council employee. Which meant she could do a job that was 'politically restricted', a job that politically active people wouldn't usually be allowed to do.
So, was the minister now in charge of the massive "Vetting and Barring Scheme" guilty of using a loophole to avoid being vetted and barred herself?
More importantly, do local authorities fill posts with people who are politically sympathetic to the leadership? And would a new administration have to carry out a cull?
Meg Hillier's answers from Meg Hillier answers Blood and Property questions:
Blood and Property: Do you think that in places like Hackney, or Tower Hamlets, that council departments and staff become politicised?
Meg Hillier: I deal with them on a very factual basis. If I’m dealing with a licensing issue then I’m dealing with them in relation to a licensing issue. But I think it’s right that council employees should follow the policy mission of the council. They should also be able to change course if the leadership changed. But I don’t think there’s any likelihood that the leadership will change.
Blood and Property: Do you think that concern over Hackney’s communications department, with Hackney Today for example, is fair? Do you think there are safeguards to prevent these becoming political tools?
Meg Hillier: There are safeguards because there have been councils in the past that have been taken to court when they’ve put something in the paper that’s been seen to be political. If anyone has an objection they should raise it and it should be investigated. But I don’t deal with Hackney Today at all beyond updating surgery details. I do publications from Parliament and I have to make it very balanced and not party political. There are very strict rules for all of us in public life.
Blood and Property: Back in 2005 when you were the parliamentary candidate for Hackney you were working in Tower Hamlets council press office which I think the Lib Dems had an issue with.
Meg Hillier: I wasn’t employed by Tower Hamlets council.
Blood and Property: No you were employed by an agency but you had a job in the press office.
Meg Hillier: I didn’t actually have a job in the press office. I was employed by my employer who then sent me on an appointment and they took me on because of the skills I had and my politics was really neither here nor there. If I hadn’t been able to do the job I wouldn’t have got the job.
Blood and Property: Yes, but its just an example of having people who are clearly political in roles that may be shouldn’t be political.
Meg Hillier: But there are rules about that. You can’t do that in jobs of a certain level.
Blood and Property: But you were able to do that job in Tower Hamlets because you worked for an agency instead of being a council employee.
Meg Hillier: I was employed by someone to do a job and I was not there to do any spin for any particular political party. In my job before I was very professional and you don’t last very long if you are partial. But equally, if you work in any local government environment you have to follow the policy that your political leadership sets. And that’s the job of a non-politically aligned administrative body.
Blood and Property: So if someone like Andrew Boff won and became Mayor you wouldn’t see a huge exodus of staff at a certain level?
Meg Hillier: Well. I don’t know. I don’t see it happening. But really there a lots of examples of people being councillors from one party or another and they wind up being chief executives of a council of a different political hue and it’s not an issue because they’re good at their jobs.
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