Council refuses to hear anti-Veolia protestors

Hackney Town Hall. Pic: Martin Deutsch

A meeting of Hackney Council on Wednesday blocked a delegation of residents from speaking on the tender process for two North London Waste Authority contracts.

The deputation intended to urge councillors, specifically the two Hackney NWLA delegates, to oppose awarding the contracts for waste disposal and recycling to Veolia due the company’s activity in the Middle East.

The residents, led by Caroline Day, had followed the normal procedure of obtaining the backing of ten residents and a signature from a councillor in this case Ian Rathbone, Labour councillor for Leabridge.

However a motion put forward by Linda Kelly, Conservative councillor for Leabridge, seconded by Labour Mayor Jules Pipe and passed by a unanimous show of hands, blocked Day from speaking.

Day told Eastlondonlines: “At every stage the deputation had been vetted and accepted by council officials so there was no problem with the deputation, it was seen as relevant to the council, it was seen as of interest to people of the borough.”

A motion to block a deputation from speaking at a council meeting is extremely rare and Hackney Council could not cite another instance of this happening.

The delegation are concerned by the activity of Veolia Israel, which provides services for Israeli settlements in the West Bank that are illegal under international law. The delegation also alleged that Veolia has a poor safety and recycling history.

A board of fourteen delegates from seven north London councils will decide who wins the contract. The two delegates from Hackney are Samantha Lloyd and Feryal Derirci.

NWLA states: “It is these 14 councillors that ultimately make decisions relating to the disposal of North London’s waste.”

Explaining the decision to block the deputation, Hackney Council said: “Elected members felt that to receive the deputation could give the incorrect appearance that they were open to lobbying on procurement issues and would in turn be prepared to lobby an external organisation about its procurement.

“Elected members also said that it was inappropriate for full Council to debate what is intrinsically an international political issue which the local authority is in no position to resolve.”

A cross party statement issued by the council said: “We believe, that although technically acceptable, to have received this deputation would not have observed the spirit of the Council’s constitution and went beyond what was reasonable for Members to consider”.

Speaking to ELL, Michael Jones, Labour councillor for New River, echoed the council’s statement: “We don’t have a say so there’s no use in talking about something that we don’t have power over.”

When questioned whether the Labour Whip had been used to enforce the backing of the motion he said: “I can’t share that with you because I’m not in the right position to do that.”

Day maintains that the issue is not just a question of international politics but is something that will directly affect residents.

She said: “This is an issue that affects all residents of the borough as it is about the use of their taxpayer money.”

The contract is worth over five billion pounds over twenty-five years with each of the seven north London boroughs, Islington, Barnet, Waltham Forest, Camden, Enfield, Haringey, and Hackney contributing around £600 million each.

Ian Rathbone, the facilitator of the deputation abstained from the vote, he said:  “I believe that if a deputation is taken to the council, it is a resident’s right to be heard.”

An NLWA spokesperson said: “Issues around the West Bank / Israel are ones that cause very strong feelings. There has been much said and communicated to the authority in letters and representations regarding this issue. The legal position is however very clear and these are not issues that the NLWA can or will in any way take into account.”

The issue of Veolia’s involvement in the tender has recently been raised by Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories. In a letter to NLWA members he urged them not to select the company.

He said: “I agree with the increasing number of experts in international law that argue that any decision by the NLWA to provide access to public funds to Veolia may contravene the UK’s international legal obligation not to facilitate Israeli violations of international law.”

Responding to the protest, a Veolia Environmental Services’ spokesperson said: “Veolia Environement has a presence in Israel through its operating local subsidiaries owned by Veolia Israel.

“In relation to the Occupied Territories, there are no current plans to undertake any further activities or to service the Israeli settlements situated therein.”

A final decision on the tender will be made in January.

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