Haringey councillors approve controversial choice for new chief executive

Haringey Council welcomed its new chief executive into the fold on Tuesday night amid vocal protests and petitioning residents, in one of the most controversial recruitments in living memory.

Some three councillors even voted against the appointment of Nick Walkley, derisively dubbed “Mr easyCouncil” by critics for the billion-pound privatisation plans he oversaw in neighbouring Barnet, which will see many of its services run by commercial companies. A fourth councillor abstained from the vote.

Over the last fortnight, the public strength of feeling towards Mr Walkley has been evident on social media, and around 20 residents mustered in the cold to protest against the council endorsing his role outside Haringey Civic Centre on Tuesday evening.

Panicked tweets flew across the Twittersphere from the moment his name was announced. Did his appointment hail a new era of modern-day Thatcherism in Labour-run Haringey, despite there being not one Tory councillor in the entire borough?

It escalated to such a point that a petition, now with more than 400 signatures, was set up asking councillors to not approve the choice for Haringey’s new CEO.

Yet, despite the protest votes, he was overwhelmingly accepted into the post.

Leader of the council Claire Kober was forced to defend Haringey’s choice - one which, she hopes, will see councillors’ ambitions for the borough realised.

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“We were impressed by his record of delivery,” she said. “I am confident he will be a chief executive who works in the interest of the whole council.”

Her words were met with a chorus of boos and snorts from the gallery - filled with those who had made their way up from the group of protestors outside.

Dave Morris, of the Haringey Alliance for Public Services, was quite clear why he and his colleagues were there. It was unlikely they were going to be convinced.

“We are opposed to cuts and privatisation to our vital local services,” he said. “We are calling on the council not to employ someone responsible for the notorious mass-privatisation programme in our neighbouring borough and instead stand up for the interests of Haringey.”

But, back in the council chamber, Cllr Kober hit back. Why are you not protesting outside Whitehall, she asked, why not outside Parliament? The blame lies there for the cuts which have made life harder for Haringey residents. Mr Walkley, she assured, would not be bringing Tory policies to Haringey, but simply helping them cope with the after-effects.

Outside, Haringey TUC secretary Keith Flett took her point, but added: “His background does not look good but he is a servant of the council,” he said. “He has actually left Barnet at the moment when [all the privatisation] is going to happen. The key issue is implementation. He may well have been talking about it but he has not actually done it. Are we going to pay him �189,000 a year to talk about what he is going to do for two years, and then he leaves before he does it?”