Hackney Town Hall with sky

Hackney Town Hall. Photograph: Hackney Citizen

The multinational company Veolia has dropped its bid for waste contracts in North London, following protests in Hackney and nearby boroughs about its activities in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

A statement released today by the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) said Veolia had withdrawn from the race to win the contracts.

The NLWA “received notification from Veolia Environmental Services that they will not be submitting final tenders for either NLWA’s waste services or fuel use contracts.”

“Veolia had been shortlisted for both contracts and, in withdrawing, Veolia has confirmed that the decision has no bearing on the quality and integrity of the projects,” it said. The NLWA will now ‘pursue dialogue on final tenders’ from other companies.

“This is a huge victory for local democracy,” said Caroline Day, a Hackney resident who was prevented from speaking to Hackney Council at a meeting in November.

Ms Day had hoped to put the case against the borough’s waste services being handled by Veolia, but her deputation was blocked by a cross-party motion seconded by Hackney’s directly-elected Mayor Jules Pipe.

“Powerful lobbies representing unethical interests in occupied Palestine may have won a short-term victory in silencing me,” said Ms Day, “but in standing up for their right to see their money invested ethically, local people have achieved a victory for justice.”

Ms Day is also a spokesperson for the campaign group No2Veolia, who say they are popping open bottles of champagne.

A spokesperson for Veolia told the Hackney Citizen they have “no additional comment to make” beyond the NLWA’s statement.

The announcement comes after fierce debate over Hackney Council’s move to block Ms Day’s deputation, the Labour Group’s decision to whip the vote and the involvement of external lobby groups in the council’s actions.

The motion not to hear the deputation was brought by Conservative councillor Linda Kelly, and was drafted with the assistance of a group called UK Lawyers for Israel, whose chair Jonathan Turner is also head of the Zionist Federation’s legal team.

Mayor Jules Pipe has since disputed UKLI’s role in drafting the motion, claiming in a statement that he wrote the motion himself. However, the council has so far been unable to provide evidence to support this claim.

It has also emerged that Cllr Luke Akehurst was influential in bringing Cllr Kelly’s motion to the attention of senior Council members.

In an email seen by the Hackney Citizen Cllr Luke Akehurst said: “On the Monday of the week of full council Cllr Kelly told me she would be moving a procedural motion to not hear the deputation.

“I informed the Mayor and Chief Whip […] but I did not seek to influence their or the Labour Group’s response to the procedural motion.”

Cllr Akehurst, who is employed by a group called BICOM as Director of ‘We Believe in Israel’, continued: “There is no secret that I work in the area of promoting support for Israel and opposing boycotts, my employment role is a very public and high profile one.”

Cllr Akehurst wrote that he consulted with the borough solicitor for advice on whether to participate in meetings on Veolia, and ‘erred on the side of caution’ when the Labour Group met to discuss Cllr Kelly’s motion, by declaring his interests and excluding himself from the discussion and vote.

He also declared his interests and left the chamber during the full Council meeting, in which the motion was passed with only two abstentions.

“I am entitled to campaign on the Veolia boycott issue in my work capacity, it is part of my day job to do so, the important thing is to declare this conflict of interest for the sake of transparency and not participate in council decisions where my job might be perceived to have prejudiced my stance,” he wrote.

Keeping up appearances

Hackney Council argued in November that allowing Ms Day’s 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.”

A cross-party statement by representatives of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative groups said that while it was ‘technically acceptable’, hearing the deputation “would not have observed the spirit of the Council’s constitution”.

However, a deputation on this subject was allowed by Waltham Forest Council, where a resident there was able to speak in a council meeting about why Veolia should not receive their waste contracts.

Irfan Akhtar, spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council of Mosques, overcame resistance from some councillors, including Cllr Clyde Loakes, who is also Chair of the NLWA, and gave a three minute speech to the council on 13 December.

Mr Akhtar, who was able to present the council with 4,000 signatures after the WFCM promoted the petition in the borough’s mosques, called Hackney Council’s behaviour ‘disgraceful’.

“The way it [Hackney Council] tried to silence someone without letting other councillors have a chance to hear and make up their own minds. […] It’s disgraceful really,” he said.

A spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council, speaking to the Hackney Citizen about the Council’s decision to hear the speech, said: “There’s no reason not to let people have their say. That’s democracy in action, isn’t it?”

Hackney Council declined to comment on the case of Waltham Forest, saying it had nothing more to add to their previous statements on this issue.

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