Senior Merton Councillor Peter Walker faces investigation into misconduct claims

Wimbledon Guardian: Confident of no wrong-doing: Councillor Peter Walker, cabinet member for education at Merton Council Confident of no wrong-doing: Councillor Peter Walker, cabinet member for education at Merton Council

A senior councillor’s future as education chief has been thrown into question pending an investigation into complaints that he allegedly broke council rules while campaigning for the expansion of a school.

Councillor Peter Walker, Merton Council’s cabinet member for education, allegedly brought the council into disrepute because of a letter he sent to residents living near Dundonald Primary School in Wimbledon.

It is the first time since 2008 that a complaint against a councillor has been deemed serious enough to be investigated externally and, if upheld, would almost certainly cost Coun Walker his post as education spokesman.

Letter from Labour party may have breached Data Protection Act

The letter sought to rebuff what Coun Walker described as false propaganda being distributed by the Save Dundonald Rec campaign group, which was launched last month to prevent the council redeveloping the school on land they claim is protected by a legal covenant.

But members of the group complained that Coun Walker had wrongly represented himself on behalf of the council, when he should have said it was a message from the Labour party, and that he may have breached the Data Protection Act by improperly using the electoral register to obtain names and addresses.

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Lorraine Kember, one of three members of the group which complained, said: “If someone is talking about a policy as a member of the council then they are obligated to check their facts with the council.

“There were errors in this letter which we believe were not checked by the council and it didn’t clearly say it was a political letter, which is wrong.”

Councillor Walker: "People know I'm a Labour politician"

Coun Walker told the Wimbledon Guardian: “I am very confident what we have been doing, to provide people with the facts about Dundonald Primary School, is what we’ve been doing.

“This letter was distributed by the Labour party because it was a political letter. To not include the logo was a decision for the Labour party.

"There was no confusion about it coming from Merton Council and people know I’m a Labour politician.

“The data used was taken straight from the table that we produced in the consultation document last Autumn that went to all Dundonald residents and showed a 30 per cent increase in children who will need school places. That’s data from the Office of National Statistics.”

“It is symptomatic of denying that facts that we have a 30 per cent rise of children come to our schools. Some people just do not like any change at all.

“I am a new boy in the council and I will answer any questions put to me. But I can’t believe that the Labour Party putting out this letter from me is wrong.”

His opposite number, Conservative education spokesman Councillor Richard Hilton, said: “As councillors we are elected to serve the people of the borough with integrity and if anyone is found to have broken the rules – even in spirit – then that is a serious breach of trust with the electorate.

“Knowing Councillor Walker and his passion for his portfolio, I hope the allegations prove to be unfounded.”

Helen White, the council monitoring officer, said an independent investigator outside of Merton will investigate the matter and report back to the Standards Committee on whether the allegations against Coun Walker are to be upheld.

That letter in full:

I am writing to you as a matter of urgency to counter some of the alarming information that is circulating about the future of Dundonald Rec in relation to the expansion of Dundonald School.

Next week, Merton Council will begin consulting with local residents about the proposals to expand Dundonald Primary School from a one form entry of 210 pupils, to a two-form entry school of 420 pupils.

Dundonald Primary School has an outstanding Ofsted rating and is oversubscribed year after year. People move to Wimbledon because it is a great place to live and bring up children. Merton Council has a legal and moral duty to provide places for all primary aged children in its area. There has been a 30% growth in pupils of primary age across the Borough and many are here in Central Wimbledon.

Year children enter reception class Total applying for primary school places in Merton Rise from 2007/8
2007/8 2,612
2008/9 2,785 173
2009/10 2,893 281
2010/11 2,972 360
2011/12 3,250 638
2012/13 3,320 708

The current situation at Dundonald is that children need to live within approximately 200 metres to get a place at the school. It is not an exact science as numbers vary from year to year, but currently children living in the roads listed below tend not to get a place in Dundonald.

Graham Road, Hartfield Crescent, Hartfield Road, Henfield Road, Kingston Road, Kingswood Road, Merton Hall Road, Toynbee Road, Worple Road.

If the proposed expansion goes ahead we are likely to be able to offer places to children in these roads, if it does not they are unlikely to get a place at this outstanding local school.

The Future of Dundonald Park

Let me make it clear on a personal level, I am a local resident with a family and I am a founder member of the Friends of Dundonald Park – in face the AGM of Friends of Dundonald was once held in the loft of my hours. I have planted both trees, and bulbs for the Spring and I job around the park most mornings. I would fight any plan which puts in jeopardy the wonderful facilities this lovely park provides.

The plans to expand Dundonald, which you will be able to see during the consultation, have been sensitively designed so that the area to be built on will only occupy the space currently occupied by the existing dilapidated pavilion. The amount of open space in Dundonald Park will be the same as it is now and there will be a £6m development giving local residents a new pavilion and an expanded local school. At a time of Government-imposed public spending cuts this is a chance to invest in the park and provide an excellent education locally for our children.

Save Dundonald Rec Campaign

Unfortunately the “Save Dundonald Rec” Campaign has been distributing an alarming poster showing Merton Council blocking up the entrance to the Park. The poster is brilliant propaganda and makes a strong point, but that point has no basis in reality.

I urge you to come along to look at the Council’s proposals. Also think of the 210 local children who each year will be able to attend an outstanding local school, to say nothing of us in the community who will gain a modern pavilion.

Merton does not have the option to do nothing. We have a statutory obligation to educate our children. Think of how you would feel if you 4-year-old or your grandchild had to travel to Morden to go to junior school.

So far there has only been one side to this argument. If you support the plan to improve Dundonald Park or have any other comments, please let us know by emailing me at peter.walker@merton.gov.uk or by calling the office on 020 8540 5151.

Best Wishes, Peter Walker Cabinet Member for Education Merton Council

PS. This is for everyone in your household to see so please share it and also share with others who may be affected by the plans.

What do you think? Leave a comment below, call 020 8722 6335 or email: ooakes@london.newsquest.co.uk.


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Comments (9)

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4:36pm Thu 9 Jun 11

cgollop says...

I believe this is also an issue for the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office), who is responsible for Data Protection issues.

As I understand it Councillor Peter Walker accessed the Electoral Register for the purposes of sending out his letter. The letter does not at any point claim to come from the Labour Party and therefore it cannot be claimed as a political let alone electioneering campaign. One therefore has to presume that it was sent in his personal capacity, which is clearly against the Data Protection Act. I have never been asked or consented to receiving mail from Councillor Peter Walker. Which acting in personal capacity he should have done first.

If other residents believe as I do then they should follow this link and register a complaint against Peter Walker.
http://www.ico.gov.u
k/complaints/data_pr
otection.aspx
I believe this is also an issue for the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office), who is responsible for Data Protection issues. As I understand it Councillor Peter Walker accessed the Electoral Register for the purposes of sending out his letter. The letter does not at any point claim to come from the Labour Party and therefore it cannot be claimed as a political let alone electioneering campaign. One therefore has to presume that it was sent in his personal capacity, which is clearly against the Data Protection Act. I have never been asked or consented to receiving mail from Councillor Peter Walker. Which acting in personal capacity he should have done first. If other residents believe as I do then they should follow this link and register a complaint against Peter Walker. http://www.ico.gov.u k/complaints/data_pr otection.aspx cgollop

2:37pm Fri 10 Jun 11

MHR Resident says...

It is rather arrogant of Mr Walker to assume that I know who he is. I did not know he was Labour and as the letter was signed with the title “Cabinet Member for Education, Merton Council” I assumed it was from the Council.

Councillors, according to the Code of Conduct, “… should make decisions on merit,..” and yet the Cabinet Member for Education is actively lobbying for the expansion of a local school before the Council has undertaken a formal consultation. His mind is made up before hearing all the views or undertaking analysis like traffic studies. Mr Walker may want to consider if he has now ensured that any decision he reaches on this issue could be Judicially Reviewed based on a failure to reach a merits based decision.
It is rather arrogant of Mr Walker to assume that I know who he is. I did not know he was Labour and as the letter was signed with the title “Cabinet Member for Education, Merton Council” I assumed it was from the Council. Councillors, according to the Code of Conduct, “… should make decisions on merit,..” and yet the Cabinet Member for Education is actively lobbying for the expansion of a local school before the Council has undertaken a formal consultation. His mind is made up before hearing all the views or undertaking analysis like traffic studies. Mr Walker may want to consider if he has now ensured that any decision he reaches on this issue could be Judicially Reviewed based on a failure to reach a merits based decision. MHR Resident

11:32pm Fri 10 Jun 11

farmyardfc says...

The fact that the letter was attributed to the "Cabinet Member for Education Merton Council" certainly made me think it was an official communication from Merton Council. When I first received it I was horrified (though not surprised) that the council would send out such a blatant piece of propoganda. It was only a few days later when I learned from a neighbour that it was in fact from the Labour Party. I think by leaving out any reference to the Labour Party it was designed to intentionally mislead the reader and therefore Mr Walker should indeed be punished for his misconduct.
The fact that the letter was attributed to the "Cabinet Member for Education Merton Council" certainly made me think it was an official communication from Merton Council. When I first received it I was horrified (though not surprised) that the council would send out such a blatant piece of propoganda. It was only a few days later when I learned from a neighbour that it was in fact from the Labour Party. I think by leaving out any reference to the Labour Party it was designed to intentionally mislead the reader and therefore Mr Walker should indeed be punished for his misconduct. farmyardfc

7:18pm Sat 11 Jun 11

LMSW19 says...

How am I, or the majority of people, to know who Peter Walker is? and what political party he represents. I find it hard to believe it was done unintentionally.

Building on the recreation ground is a big issue in the community and he shouldn't be trying to influence it by scare-mongering that people will have to send their children to Morden to school. Tells you what he thinks of schools in Morden.

Also, why is he using my name?? Where did he get my details. I have never been on any labour party list.
How am I, or the majority of people, to know who Peter Walker is? and what political party he represents. I find it hard to believe it was done unintentionally. Building on the recreation ground is a big issue in the community and he shouldn't be trying to influence it by scare-mongering that people will have to send their children to Morden to school. Tells you what he thinks of schools in Morden. Also, why is he using my name?? Where did he get my details. I have never been on any labour party list. LMSW19

12:27pm Sun 12 Jun 11

pwalker says...

I am very happy to be challenged on the methods I use to put across my views.

It means that those who do so are not happy challenging the facts of my letter

Incidentally the letter had the address of the Labour Party on it. Legally all political parties have access and the right to use personal details of voters from the electoral register.

Now lets talk about the 200 young children who need to attend Dundonald school and the improvement to the adjacent park that expansion will bring

Best wishes

Peter Walker
I am very happy to be challenged on the methods I use to put across my views. It means that those who do so are not happy challenging the facts of my letter Incidentally the letter had the address of the Labour Party on it. Legally all political parties have access and the right to use personal details of voters from the electoral register. Now lets talk about the 200 young children who need to attend Dundonald school and the improvement to the adjacent park that expansion will bring Best wishes Peter Walker pwalker

12:33pm Sun 12 Jun 11

LMSW19 says...

"Incidentally the letter had the address of the Labour Party on it."

In very small writing on the bottom of the second page.

"Legally all political parties have access and the right to use personal details of voters from the electoral register."

Correct me if I'm wrong but I didn't think anyone had the right to use the edited register unless for elections.
"Incidentally the letter had the address of the Labour Party on it." In very small writing on the bottom of the second page. "Legally all political parties have access and the right to use personal details of voters from the electoral register." Correct me if I'm wrong but I didn't think anyone had the right to use the edited register unless for elections. LMSW19

1:09pm Sun 12 Jun 11

CommunityChick says...

What an extremely arrogant man Peter Walker is! We did not even know who he was before, let alone what political party he belonged to. I don't think the letter even mentioned the word "Labour" in it, and I don't happen to know the address of the Labour party off by heart.
What an extremely arrogant man Peter Walker is! We did not even know who he was before, let alone what political party he belonged to. I don't think the letter even mentioned the word "Labour" in it, and I don't happen to know the address of the Labour party off by heart. CommunityChick

8:58pm Sun 12 Jun 11

pwalker says...

Please answer my case for expansion of Dundonald

My first obligation is to children in the Dundonald area who wish to attend an outstanding Ofsted school

Second is to improve my local park

Best wishes

Peter Walker
Please answer my case for expansion of Dundonald My first obligation is to children in the Dundonald area who wish to attend an outstanding Ofsted school Second is to improve my local park Best wishes Peter Walker pwalker

7:58am Mon 13 Jun 11

LMSW19 says...

Mr. Walker - My post above should have said full electoral register. Did you or did you not use the full electoral register to send your letter?

Please answer the question as it is key.

As I am sure you are aware -

"Only certain people and organisations can have copies of the full register, and they can only use it for specified purposes. These include electoral purposes, the prevention and detection of crime and checking your identity when you have applied for credit."

This doesn't count as electoral....

Also - you are not an elected councillor in Dundonald Ward. As such you have no official remit to meddle in affairs other than education in this ward. You have no "obligation" to "improve" your local "park".
Mr. Walker - My post above should have said full electoral register. Did you or did you not use the full electoral register to send your letter? Please answer the question as it is key. As I am sure you are aware - "Only certain people and organisations can have copies of the full register, and they can only use it for specified purposes. These include electoral purposes, the prevention and detection of crime and checking your identity when you have applied for credit." This doesn't count as electoral.... Also - you are not an elected councillor in Dundonald Ward. As such you have no official remit to meddle in affairs other than education in this ward. You have no "obligation" to "improve" your local "park". LMSW19

Comments are closed on this article.

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