Opinion / 13 December, 2012

Leader – Anti-Veolia deputation fails the ‘spirit test’

Hackney Council’s reasons for preventing a resident speak at a council meeting are puzzling and perhaps disingenuous

Hackney Town Hall with sky

Spirited away: Council refuses to hear deputation.Photograph: Hackney Citizen

There have been disquieting goings-on at the Town Hall, where councillors have virtually unanimously voted to prevent a resident from bringing a deputation to a council meeting – despite the fact that the wording of her speech had been approved by Hackney Council’s legal team.

The deputation concerned the French multinational Veolia, which is bidding for a multimillion pound waste management contract to serve our borough.

Campaigner Caroline Day had hoped to give a five minute speech about Veolia’s involvement in projects in Israel  and occupied territory in the West Bank. She was barred from doing so after the council voted in favour of a motion proposed by Conservative councillor Linda Kelly and seconded by Mayor Jules Pipe.

The council has trotted out various justifications for putting the kibosh on the speech, one apparently being that the references to events in the Middle East were not relevant to local people.

This is a questionable argument, given that an Israeli flag was recently unfurled at a council meeting to celebrate Hackney having twinned itself with the Israeli city of Haifa.

The Mayor has argued that because “Hackney has no foreign policy” the deputation was irrelevant.  Isn’t the twinning with Haifa then inappropriate?

It seems unfair, and a blow for freedom of speech, when campaigners clear all the various hurdles involved in bringing a deputation to the Town Hall only to be censored by their  own councillors.

Whilst Ms Day’s speech conformed to the letter of the constitution, it was argued that the speech did not observe its spirit.

Residents should not be prevented from speaking to council simply because the council does not want to hear what they have to say.


Hackney Mayor backs Conservative bid to block anti-Veolia deputation

/ 13 December, 2012
  • Jenny Hardacre
  • Yael Kahn

    Not only did Hackney Council made a mockery of local democracy, but the judgement of Mayor Jules Pipes should now be questioned after last night’s Waltham Forest Council invitation to local resident, Irfan Akhtar, who delivered a speech similar to the one Mayor Pipe silenced in Hackney.

    The deputation in Waltham Forest Council is significant no less because this is the home of the NLWA Chair, Cllr Clyde Loakes, who did not block the speech about Veolia, its grave misconduct in its complicity with the Israeli violations of international law and its dire financial state.

    Mayor Pipe was shown to collude with no less than the director of ‘We Believe in Israel’ … [Deleted by moderator]….

    As now confirmed Cllr Akehurst was fundamental in securing the motion to block Caroline Day’s deputation.

    … [Deleted by moderator]…

    Apart from holding his head in shame would Mayor Pipe now amend his errors by:

    1. Apologising to Caroline Day and inviting her to deliver her speech

    2. Reporting Cllr Akehurst to the standards committee … [Deleted by moderator]…

  • Hackney Citizen

    In a statement to the Hackney Citizen on 17 December 2012, Cllr Luke Akehurst said:

    “The allegation that I “failed to register [I am] a paid lobbyist for Veolia\” is false.

    “I am not a “lobbyist for Veolia”.

    “I have never had any contact let alone payment from Veolia and nor has my employer.

    “I have no interest in Veolia winning the NLWA contract, only in it not being barred from competing for it.

    “I declared at Labour Group and full Council that I am employed as the Director of we Believe in Israel, a grassroots campaign that opposes boycotts of Israel.

    “I therefore withdrew from both meetings and was unable to participate in either debate.

    “I would appreciate it if you could moderate or remove Yael Kahn’s comment as it contains a false statement.”

  • Miranda

    But Cllr Luke Akehurst is payed by BICOM, the UK’s Israel lobby organisation – funded in part by its chair Zabludowicz, whose funds derive from Israeli arms manufacture, and his settlement investments.

    Cllr Akehurst is payed by BICOM to promote Israel’s interests in the UK. This includes ensuring that Veolia’s activities – consolidating the infrastructure of the illegal settlements on Palestinian land,- continue to go unhindered.

    As for We Believe in Israel being ‘grass-roots’ – please! How d’you get the Israel Ambassador and all those Israeli ministers and UK cabinet ministers and heads of Israeli organisations from Israel to attend your conferences?

  • Steven Allen

    I really am shocked and appalled at these goings-on at the Town Hall. Public procurement processes must be undertaken in a scrupulously open manner and the actions of various councillors is undermining that principle. Instead of complaining about coverage in newspapers they should have residents’ interests as their priority.

  • John Dowdle FRSA

    Politicians are always claiming that they are in favour of open government and transparency yet in this case when the activities of local government are made open and transparent they start complaining about it. Veolia are complicitly involved in the development and maintenance of illegal so-called “settlements” in Palestine and are an unfit organization, ethically and financially, to be allowed within a million miles of any public services. If the NLWA end up granting them this hugely lucrative (£4.7 billion) set of contracts and Veolia then go bust – as most financial experts believe they will – there will be a lot of red faces at the NLWA and the affiliated North London Councils who were so stupid as to allow it to happen.
    Ask yourself: “Why did Veolia sell-off 90% od their equity in Veolia Water to Morgan STanley Bank and Prudential Insurance, unless they are experiencing financial difficulties?” Incidentally, this is the real explanation as to why they changed the name of the company to Affinity Water.

  • Yael Kahn

    Readers should be aware that Cllr Luke Akehurst had written:
    “I am entitled to campaign on the Veolia boycott issue in my work capacity, it is part of my day job to do so”.

    However, he made this admission only after he was fundamental in securing the motion to block Caroline Day’s deputation and only after the motion was passed. While Cllr Akehurst disclosed that he is employed as director of We Believe in Israel which opposes boycotts of companies in Israel, that information did not include the fact that his paid job was “to campaign on the Veolia boycott issue”. Wasn’t that admission material to the Council? Shouldn’t Cllr Akehurst have disclosed this in the Chamber?

    Moreover, Cllr Akehurst should have disclosed that his paid job includes campaigning for Veolia against it being barred from the NLWA contracts in spite of the infrastructure it built and operates for illegal Israeli settlements, which by definition are not in Israel [but in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank] and hence in violation of international law. This is crucial as Caroline Day’s deputation was not about “boycotts of companies in Israel”, but about excluding Veolia for its complicity with violations of international law.

    Shouldn’t the Mayor and the councillors, who were thus barred from hearing Caroline Day on contracts that will cost Hackney residents over £600 million, be informed what work Cllr Akehurst does for the illegal settlements and Veolia. In particular will Cllr Akehurst confirm whether his paid job includes advocating that the illegal Israeli settlements should be treated as if they were legal?

    Furthermore, as Caroline Day’s deputation was about other reasons for excluding Veolia, such as its poor safety record and worrying precarious financial standing, it seems Cllr Akehurst is withholding further disclosure of the full nature of his job on behalf of Veolia.

  • Bob Dobbs

    Luke Akehursts statement that he is not a “lobbyist for Veolia” is an object lesson in how politicians lie “in spirit” without technically lying. His arguments are essentially semantic. He works for an organisation that provides cover for the Israeli state and its violations of international law. Many companies such as Caterpillar, Veolia, Motorola, Ahava etc are subjected to criticism because of their complicity in Israeli criminal activity. Mr Akehurt’s “day job” is to reduce the effectiveness and to delegitimise these criticisms. So while he is not technically a lobbyist for Veolia as he is not directly employed by them – he is a lobbyist for the positions of the Israeli government and one of their interests is in defending companies like Veolia.

    While it is correct that he is not directly employed by Veolia and is not lobbying exclusively on their behalf Mr Akehurst is employed by BICOM which describes itself as an”independent British organisation dedicated to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain.” To describe this as a “grassroots” organisation is frankly an insult to the intelligence of his constituents.

    In fact as revealed by Peter Oborne in his Dispatches investigation “Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby” BICOM is primarily funded by Poju Zabludowicz who inherited a fortune through his father’s involvement in the arms industry. Shlomo Zabludowicz’s firm Soltam is today owned by the top Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit.

    In 2009, The Observer reported that Poju Zabludowicz gave BICOM (which he chairs) nearly £1 million in 2007 alone. Oborne’s subsequent TV documentary about Britain’s Israel lobby revealed his investment in a shopping centre in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and other Israeli business activities in the occupied West Bank.

    Akehurst’s involvement in lobbying to have the deputation refused was recently described as “instrumental” in the Hackney Gazette. After Conservative councillor Kelly, the proposer of the recent motion contacted UKLFI they called Labour councillor Akehurst, who alerted the Mayor and the Chief Whip and the Mayor who alerted the Labour Group.

    David Lewis (secretary of UK Lawyers for Israel) stated in the Hackney Gazette article:

    “It changed the situation from one in which Linda was going to make a motion and cause a bit of a fuss probably without achieving anything to something that was going to work. “.

    A former PR expert for the arms industry, Akehurst is employed in a PR capacity by BICOM (Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre) as director of campaigns for ‘We Believe in Israel’ a ‘public advocacy network’. He was named “UK consultant of the year” at the 2008 Public Affairs News Awards. The prize was in recognition for his invaluable PR services for several companies that arm dictators.

    BICOM was one of the largest donors to Atlantic Bridge, the think-tank founded by disgraced former defence secretary Liam Fox. Atlantic Bridge lost its charity status in 2011 after failing to meet the Charity commission’s guidelines.

    Fox was widely criticized for utilizing Adam Werritty as an “unofficial adviser” in meetings with arms companies and foreign governments and was accused of funding Mr Werritty’s role with “undeclared private donations”. Labour leader Ed Milliband said at the time of the scandal, “The revelations over the last week about what has been going on in the most sensitive department at the heart of the Prime Minister’s Government are deeply worrying”. Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray even speculated in an article published in the Daily Mail that Fox and Werrity were being used as “useful idiots” by Mossad.

    (A pamphlet detailing the investigations discoveries is available here:

  • Bob Dobbs


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