'Banner' councillors hit back at Tory critic

'Banner' councillors hit back at Tory critic
By Tony Earnshaw
Local Democracy Reporter

LABOUR councillors in Dewsbury have been accused of spending money that could have gone to community projects on unjustified “self-promotional” banners.

It has led to a war of words between Labour and Kirklees Conservatives.

The banners, which feature portraits of Masood Ahmed, Gulfam Asif and Nosheen Dad as well as their mobile phone numbers, were bought from the £10,000 budget allocated to the ward, which councillors are free to use to publicise their names and contact details.

Using ward-based budgets in this way does not break Kirklees Council rules.

Coun Ahmed argued that the banners were a highly visible method of highlighting ward members’ actions, with the reverse containing messages aimed at the public, for example, around fly-tipping and litter.

He added that their use was in line with the Kirklees Democracy Commission Report that highlighted a lack of visibility and accountability of local politicians, and the fact that people want more contact with local decision-makers.

Coun Ahmed rejected suggestions that he had said no council money was used to pay for the banners.

Coun John Taylor, deputy leader of Kirklees’ Conservative Group, says his Labour colleagues are guilty of poor judgement.

Coun Taylor (Kirkburton) said: “In my ward we don’t buy banners. We knock on doors, produce leaflets or use social media.

“We use our ward money to support community groups that are wanting to fund a particular type of activity. 

“I cannot believe that there are no similar priorities within the Dewsbury South area.”

He said the banners would have been better placed in parts of Dewsbury that are considered hard to reach, such as Thornhill, the Mountain estate or Overthorpe.

“There is a very strong community network throughout the mosques and other community groups where those councillors are well known,” Coun Taylor continued.

“They don’t need to self-promote themselves in that way.

“I am not saying that they have mis-used funds. What I am saying is that it’s not the best use of them.

“I have a duty and responsibility to the whole of Kirklees. We all do.

“There is a public information issue here.

“The public need to know this is how their councillors are spending money allocated to their ward and whether that is appropriate or not. 

“It would be interesting to hear what the people of Dewsbury think about it.”

Coun Asif called Coun Taylor’s comments “divisive”.

Responding to Coun Taylor’s concerns, Kirklees Council’s chief executive, Jacqui Gedman, said the Labour trio had done nothing wrong.

She wrote: “The funding for this has come from the 10k ward budget for Dewsbury South.

“It has always been very clear that councillors are free to use this money as they see fit, so long as it doesn’t conflict with council policy and is permissible in terms of use of council resources.

“It is legitimate to use council funding to publicise information in terms of names and contact details for councillors as long as this doesn’t promote a political party or contain information of a political nature. On this basis the decision taken to use money was allowable.”

Commenting on behalf of himself and ward colleagues Coun Ahmed said: “Coun Taylor knows full well that these information banners are part of the ward allocation to be used by all ward councillors, and as the chief executive pointed out, they do not contravene council policy.

“What the banners are designed to do is to make residents aware of who their local ward councillors are, and how they can be easily contacted.

“The information banners are placed across the Dewsbury South Ward in areas like Thornhill, Thornhill Lees as well as Savile Town contrary to comments made by Coun Taylor.

“This is in line with the Kirklees Democracy Commission Report that highlighted a lack of visibility and accountability of local politicians, and the fact that people want more contact with local decision makers.

“We would suggest Coun Taylor re-reads the commission’s recommendations.”

Coun Asif added: “The tone used by John Taylor was divisive.

“This is someone I had great respect for. He was part of cross-party democracy commission work which highlighted that councillors need to be visible.

“We get calls from residents directed through Kirklees’ switchboard.

“This process can take up to five minutes. 

“Not everyone is comfortable in using emails.”

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