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Legal chief urged to investigate claim that Mike Whitby ‘self-promotion’ website breaks council rules

Legal chief urged to investigate claim that Mike Whitby ‘self-promotion’ website breaks council rules

🕔11.Apr 2012

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Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby is facing a possible inquiry over claims that his new website breaches strict rules preventing politicians using local authority resources for “self-promotion”.

Hours after the site, www.mikewhitby.org.uk was launched, a complaint about its content was lodged by former council Director of Corporate Governance and Monitoring Officer Mirza Ahmad.

Dr Ahmad wrote to the city’s Chief Legal Officer David Tatlow urging him to take action and “address the breach at once”, or face a formal complaint about Coun Whitby’s conduct to the Birmingham Standards Committee, which has powers to reprimand or even suspend councillors from office.

Dr Ahmad, who is likely to run as an Independent candidate for mayor of Birmingham, believes Coun Whitby has broken the Code of Conduct by using the city council email address and telephone number in the personal contacts section of the website.

The complaint against Coun Whitby is complicated by uncertainty over whether the council leader has decided to seek the Conservative nomination for mayor of Birmingham. Although he is yet to formally declare as a candidate, Coun Whitby has hinted that he is likely to do so.

The website, which chronicles Coun Whitby’s successes during eight years as council leader, makes direct mention of the mayoral issue through an article in which people are urged to vote for a mayor in a referendum on May 3. Coun Whitby puts the case for a powerful figure who he says would be able to get things done more quickly  and push through major regeneration projects by gaining direct access to Government decision making.

There is no suggestion that council money was used to pay for the website, which was put together by private IT specialists Skills Media.

Senior council officials are said to be “relaxed” over the website, insisting that any Code of Conduct breaches are of a purely technical nature.

City council chief executive Stephen Hughes stressed that Coun Whitby had not used any council facilities in any party political role or in a campaign for election, which would have broken the rules.

Coun Whitby said he would consider Dr Ahmad’s complaint, and hinted that he might make changes to the website.

He told Chamberlain Files: “This is a website which is not using any council resource, although it clearly covers my achievements as Leader, which I am proud of. I am very pleased at the number of positive comments I have already received.

“The website is at an embryonic stage, and i will be working within all the guidelines as we develop it. Certainly I am happy to take all comments on board.”

In framing his complaint, Dr Ahmad refers to “Mike Whitby’s new self-promotion website for mayor” and states that the council leader is a “candidate for mayor”.

He said in an email to Mr Tatlow: “The Birmingham City Council e-mail, address and telephone can only be used for council business not personal self-promotion.

“I expect you, as current Monitoring Officer, to address the breach at once or he will to face a complaint to the Standards Committee. Kindly also ensure that no council funds have been or are being used to set up or run his self-promotion website.”

Dr Ahmad concluded the email with a warning: “Breaches by Whitby over use of public resources for personal use should never be tolerated.” However, he added that he expected the council leader to “continue to be belligerent” over the issue.

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