Labour-run Brighton & Hove council must take action after ex-Labour councillor £23,000 expenses scandal

Green Leader of the Opposition on Brighton & Hove City Council Steve Davis has written to the council’s Chief Executive Will Tuckley to ask him to find ways to prevent the recent scenario where two former Labour councillors together claimed £23,000 in expenses while barely attending any meetings.

Letter to Will Tuckley Council Chief Executive from the Green Group of Councillors

In the letter co-signed by all seven Green councillors, Cllr Davis says the council needs to learn lessons and implement changes to prevent such abuse of responsibilities happening again.

Will Tuckley
Chief Executive Office
Brighton and Hove City Council
Hove Town Hall
Norton Road
Hove, BN3 3BQ

6 March 2024


Dear Will,

I am disappointed that no response has been forthcoming to my letter dated 21.02 on the issues concerning Cllr Mistry and Cllr Gajjar, however I appreciate that the situation has now changed with both formally submitting their resignation so am hoping that you are now able to follow up on the below.

As referenced previously, the Green Group of Councillors estimate these two councillors have now pocketed an allowance of approximately £23,000 total since they were elected.

This is despite the fact these councillors failed to turn up to council meetings or to participate in council business; in addition, that they also failed to respond to or represent any residents in the wards of Queen’s Park and Kemptown, with the press confirming they instead devised their own ‘auto-reply’ to any resident correspondence.

We do not share the view of Lloyd Russell Moyle that the resignation of these two councillors ‘draws a line under this affair.’

This is far from the case and some serious questions still remain unanswered. We appreciate many of these fall at the door of the Labour Party, with representatives as of yet providing no apology nor explanation as to how their selection process allowed for this to happen and go unchecked for so long, or reported to the police when issues were known.

However we appreciate this is out of your control, so this letter focuses primarily on the actions I believe you can have some say over as Chief Executive. We would hope that in future the council and all political parties can commit to providing greater assurances over their selection process. Have any questions to this effect been asked of political leaders by electoral services?

We request council officers investigate and respond to, as raised in our last letter:

– At a time of severe budget cuts to the council and forced staff redundancies we cannot stand by while two individuals who clearly show no regard for council business or democratic representation pocket money that could otherwise be used to save services residents desperately need. This amount for example is roughly the same as the cost of the 79 bus to Ditchling Beacon that has just been cut by the Labour council.

Could you confirm the amount they have received to date? Given it is clear they did not fulfil their duties, can you explain what recourse the council has to request these allowances are returned and any due payment withheld?

– What actions can officers take to redress the number of resident enquiries to these councillors that will have gone without a response? We should all view it as entirely unacceptable that messages from residents could be falling into a black hole. What complaints route has been offered to residents who have raised concerns about non-responses? Are there any lessons learned that can be shared?

What can be done to address the current apparent loophole that allows councillors to sign in to meetings in order to retain the payment of their allowances, but not attend?

We are clear that lessons must be learned from this recent debacle. I would also like to check whether BHCC’s legal officers have explored whether there is scope to argue that the fact Ms Mistry and Ms Gajjar merely signed into the 1 February meeting, and then chose to leave before any official council business started, means that they did not in fact “attend” the meeting at all as set out in the Local Government Act 1972.

I believe that it is reasonable to suggest that by choosing to leave the meeting before the start of official business, they did not in fact “attend” as they were not present for the core business, they did not vote or contribute, and they were unwilling stay and discuss important matters affecting residents in the city. It is not acceptable for elected representatives to simply rock up, sign a register, and leave, and then to expect to collect allowances.

I do feel that in order to prevent this kind of disregard for council business happening again in future, it is important that BHCC is open to looking at testing legal interpretations given the reasonable assumption that many residents will hold in the city, which is that by leaving before any official business started, Ms Mistry and Ms Gajjar did not in fact “attend” the meeting.

A more appropriate description was presented in the local media by describing it as “popping by”.
Finally we remain seriously concerned that the Labour Party have failed to answer for the selection process that has allowed the potential introduction of electoral fraud into Brighton & Hove. 

I hope you can understand that we ask these questions not because we expect council officers to be responsible for the behaviour of councillors or political parties, but because we feel there are a series of actions that could already be implemented to prevent this behaviour setting a dangerous precedent.

We cannot allow the disdainful actions of two councillors to send an unsuitable message about the standards we rightly expect of all those seeking to become elected members of our council.

Please could you respond particularly on the matter of councillor allowances as soon as possible. If these two councillors are convicted of electoral fraud, can you also explain what if any measures can be taken to ensure these councillors repay any allowances claimed fraudulently.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Steve Davis

Co-signed by:
Councillor Kerry Pickett
Councillor Raphael Hill
Councillor Chloë Goldsmith
Councillor Ellen McLeay
Councillor Pete West
Councillor Sue Shanks

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This page was updated on 28.03.24.


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