‘Coronavirus cannot dilute democracy’: Haringey Council and opposition clash as AGM is moved to next May

Haringey Civic Centre. Picture: Simon Allin

Haringey Civic Centre. Picture: Simon Allin - Credit: Archant

A row has erupted over Haringey Council’s postponement of its AGM to next May – a move slammed by the opposition who say “coronavirus isn’t an excuse to dilute democracy”.

The AGM - held once a year to set the town hall agenda and appoint a new mayor - was set for this month but has now been delayed until May 20 next year.

Haringey Liberal Democrats claim council leader Joseph Ejiofor has acted “unilaterally behind closed doors” by pushing the AGM back by 12 months, setting a “worrying precedent”.

Haringey Council says the decision abides by its constitution, which stipulates the leader and mayor can alter the date and time of the AGM, and new Covid-19 legislation which grants local authorities greater flexibility over how and when it sets meetings.

Liz Morris, Haringey Liberal Democrats leader, said: “The high-handed way the decision was made is not in keeping with the unity and co-operation this crisis demands.

“Coronavirus is not an excuse to dilute democracy.

“The leader of the council is making more significant decisions than ever before. He must remain accountable for them.

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“That means whenever possible they should be taken in public with input from all councillors, not unilaterally behind closed doors.”

Haringey Liberal Democrats say it has proposed a range of alternatives to next May, including earlier dates this year, a ballot of all councillors and a virtual AGM.

In an email exchange seen by the Ham&High between the leader of the council and the opposition, Cllr Ejiofor said a consensus decision had “simply not been possible”, adding: “Let us remember, governance is not being suspended in Haringey. We are not becoming Hungary.”

Haringey Liberal Democrats questioned whether the AGM decision was a response to “internal Labour politics rather than the Covid-19 crisis”.

A Labour councillor told this newspaper the situation was “tense”, saying: “This crisis seems to have presented him (Cllr Ejiofor) with the opportunity to usurp democracy and just say ‘no we’re not going to have the AGM until next year’.

“He’s not explored any halfway options and gone straight for the nuclear one.”

Another Labour councillor criticised the alleged lack of transparency and labelled the AGM decision a “power-hungry act”.

Local authorities in Camden and Brent have not yet decided their AGM date, with Barnet’s set for September.

Haringey Council said its own AGM date was taken “completely in line” with its constitution and government legislation.

A town hall spokesperson added: “We are currently working on a process to introduce virtual meetings.

“Our priority at this stage is continuing to deliver vital services and support to our residents during this challenging time.”