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Bring an end to this rotten regime: James Morris' explosive Commons address on Sandwell Council – as he calls on leader Steve Eling to resign

By Peter Madeley | Sandwell | Politics | Published:

James Morris has called for the leader of Sandwell Council to resign over allegations of abuse of power, fraud and corruption at the authority.

James Morris

In an explosive House of Commons address, the Conservative MP for Halesowen and Rowley Regis also urged the Government to send in commissioners in a bid to restore public confidence in the Labour-controlled council.

Mr Morris used an adjournment debate in Parliament to highlight a series of allegations involving councillors and officers.

Branding the council 'a rotten regime', he said there had been a 'manipulation of processes' and a 'culture of fear and bullying amongst those who work for and sit on the authority'.

He also accused West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson of being 'uncharacteristically quiet' over allegations that were happening 'on his doorstep'.

Tom Watson

It comes after two sitting councillors – Ian Jones and Mahboob Hussain – await sanctions from the council's ethics committee for breaching the members code of conduct.

Mr Morris told MPs that Sandwell Council had become 'synonymous with local government incompetence, corruption and cronyism and become a stain on the reputation of the area'.

He said he had 'lost faith' in the authority and added that council bosses had ignored their duty of running public services, including the 'failing' children's services department.

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"I want it placed on public record that the people of Sandwell have had enough, they want change and they want it now," he said.

He went on to speak of former council leader Darren Cooper, who died in March 2016.

"I do feel uneasy with speaking ill of the dead, however following the death of Darren Cooper it created a vacuum within the council which exposed much of the goings on, and I would find it very difficult to belief that he did not know, and was not involved," he said.

Mr Morris addressed the Wragge report, which was published in May 2016, and concerned allegations of dodgy land sales and bullying that centred around Councillor Hussain.

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He highlighted allegations from January 2017 over land sales involving Councillor Babu Bawa and Councillor Hussain, as well as issues concerning Councillor Derek Rowley and Councillor Mohammad Rouf.

Some of these issues had not been investigated properly, and where wrong doing has been proven, has not resulted in any prosecution, Mr Morris told MPs.

Steve Eling

Calling for Sandwell Council leader Steve Eling to stand down, he said: "Far from draining the swamp, Councillor Eling has allowed the swamp to fester, and the smell of corruption and cover up is as strong as ever, and I have come to the conclusion that Councillor Eling must resign immediately as Leader of Sandwell Council."

Mr Morris also addressed a complaint against Councillor Richard Marshall, who quit his cabinet role in November following allegations he sent offensive Whatsapp messages about colleagues.

"The behaviour of Councillor Marshall, which appears to have been under the direct instruction of Cllr Eling, is below that which is expected of those in public, and any other office," he added.

"Near enough all of these allegations have been reported to the Labour Party to investigate. And I am told that nearly four months in to this, there has been hardly any movement in reaching a conclusion.

He added that Mr Watson had 'some very serious questions to answer' over why he had 'remained so quiet' over the issues.

He asked 'that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Communities make the strongest intervention possible into the capabilities and governance of Sandwell Council."

Mr Morris concluded: "I hope the Minister has been as equally disturbed by what he’s heard today, as many of the residents of Sandwell are, and I hope he will be able to take action and intervene which will restore public trust and bring an end to this rotten regime."

He told the Express & Star: “The reason I decided to call this debate was primarily because I feel that it is within the public interest to do so, for the public to know the answers to these questions of abuse of power, and to ensure that the local authority can start to do what it is supposed to, and provide essential services to the people of Sandwell.”

Responding to Mr Morris' comments, Mr Watson said: "Mr Morris is perfectly aware that a number of allegations have been made against councillors in Sandwell and that they have been investigated by the ethical standards committee and they will now be dealt with by Labour's disciplinary procedures in line with party rules.

"If he has specific allegations about criminality he must hand them over to the police.

"Mr Morris has also made specific claims about the former leader of Sandwell Council.

"Darren Cooper is not alive to defend himself. I urge him to present any evidence he may have so it can be assessed properly and a judgement can be made about where the truth lies."

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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