There’s more than a little local trouble in Tom Watson’s backyard as allegations of serious malfeasance at Labour controlled Sandwell Council continue to mount up. Sandwell, which partially lies in Watson’s West Bromwich East constituency, is rapidly gaining notoriety as one of England’s most rotten boroughs, with multiple allegations of misconduct in public office. It has been reported in the local papers that:
- A Labour councillor, Mahboob Hussain, sold off council-owned public toilets valued at £130,000 to a family friend for £35,000. It is also alleged he cancelled parking tickets for family members and was involved in bullying. Councillor Hussain denies these allegations.
- Another Labour councillor, Mohammad Rouf, received a council house even though he had just sold a house for £125,000. Sandwell Council spent £200,000 on the demolition of eight terraced houses and the clearing of the site, only for that to be purchased by Councillor Rouf’s son for £65,000. He was then granted planning permission for a seven-bedroom house, where Councillor Rouf now reportedly lives.
- Former Councillor Derek Rowley allegedly sold council-owned property for his own benefit and charged the council for marquee hire from his personal business.
- Another investigation found potential collusion and fraudulent practice in public office over the sale of land to two Labour councillors.
- That Labour councillors attempted to suppress a damning report into misconduct, the Wragge Report, which cost taxpayers £185,000. Despite the report finally being published in May 2016, the council’s standards committee only acknowledged it this month.
Meanwhile, the council’s critical services are failing, not least the Children’s Services department which has had a string of dire Ofsted inspections. The situation is so bad that Tory MP James Morris brought an adjournment debate on the topic last week. Morris said of Watson:
“One of my fellow Sandwell MPs, the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson)—who is not in the Chamber—is, of course, the deputy leader of the Labour party. Right on his very doorstep, there are allegations of fraud, misconduct in public office, sexism and bullying, and he has hardly breathed a word. Of all the people who would be able to step in, call a halt to the reign of some of these councillors and ensure that allegations are investigated properly, he would be the one. I think that the hon. Member for West Bromwich East has some questions to answer about why he has remained so quiet.”
Watson is usually very vocal about outrageous misconduct from public officials. Why so quiet this time?