Hackney councillors have been accused of preventing freedom of speech, after they virtually unanimously voted to block a campaigner from giving a five minute speech about Veolia’s bid for a multi-billion pound waste deal.
Caroline Day’s deputation had been approved by the borough’s lawyers, but the council took the matter into their own hands last Wednesday at the full council meeting, and refused to hear her speech about the waste management company.
The North London Waste Association (NLWA) contract with LondonWaste comes to an end in two years, and Veolia is one of the last two bidders in both the fuel use and waste services contracts – with a combined worth of up to £4billion over 25 years for seven north London boroughs.
Campaigners are unhappy the company provides transport links, waste, water and sewage services to Israeli settlements in the West Bank which are considered illegal under international law, and even the UN has written to the NWLA expressing concern.
At the meeting, Cllr Linda Kelly proposed the deputation should not be heard under rule 12.8, after announcing an interest in the motion as vice-chair of the Haifa Twinning organisation, which promotes links between the Israeli town and Hackney.
“It is my understanding councillors of all parties do not believe it is appropriate to receive this deputation on the grounds of procurement and international relations over which this council has no control or influence,” she said.
Elected Mayor Jules Pipe seconded her motion, proceeding with a lengthy speech.
“First off I do not believe there is a freedom of speech issue here, if people wish to debate this issue, let them hire a hall and see how many people come,” he said, conceding the wording of the deputation met the relevant criteria,” he said.
“Many of us here tonight believe however it does not observe the spirit of that criteria.
“I’m convinced that 48,000 voters did not vote for me in order that we should debate such matters in this chamber.”
Ms Day disagreed however: “Jules Pipe said that this is not a freedom of speech issue – this is absolutely a freedom of speech issue,” she said outside the meeting.
“I was not allowed to give a five minute speech, what are the councillors so scared of?
“Pipe said the decision it does not have any impact on Hackney, and we don’t have any interest in it, that is categorically untrue.
“Millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers money from Hackney is going to be spent on this contract and waste from Hackney will be handled by the company which is chosen, so it is absolutely in the interest of the council, the councillors and the taxpayers the truth is known about all the companies in the procurement bid.”
Cllr Ian Rathbone who introduced the deputation abstained from voting, along with Cllr Angus Mulready – but all other Labour, Lib Dem and Tory councillors voted in favour of the motion.