A catering firm part-owned by a senior Labour councillor has come under the spotlight, reports James Cracknell
The leader of the opposition at Enfield Civic Centre has asked Secretary of State Michael Gove to investigate “potentially inappropriate” spending by the council using government funding.
Conservative group leader Alessandro Georgiou has written to Gove with details relating to several grants that have been issued to a private limited company part-controlled by a council cabinet member.
Enfield Tories have provided Gove with evidence that, since 2021, at least £64,000 has been paid by the council to catering company Smokey Okey Ltd. The firm is registered as a private limited company with Companies House, where Chinelo Anyanwu is listed as a director and part-owner alongside Okechukwu Anyanwu.
Cllr Anyanwu was first elected as a councillor for Jubilee ward in May 2021 and a year later took on her current role as the council’s cabinet member for public spaces, culture and local economy. Since being elected, Cllr Anyanwu’s company has received tens of thousands of pounds from the council to provide hot meals to local children in need, although the first payments to Smokey Okey were made a few months before she became a councillor.
Cllr Anyanwu’s role with the company has been declared on her register of interests at the civic centre and a council spokesperson has said she was not involved in any of the decisions to award money to Smokey Okey.
However, one of the funding pots that Smokey Okey successfully applied to – the £200,000 Together Fund, financed using the Household Support Grant issued to local councils by the Department of Work and Pensions – was promoted as being open to “local community groups, based and operating in Enfield, whether grassroots, voluntary sector organisations or faith groups”.
Cllr Anyanwu has insisted that Smokey Okey was fully eligible for the fund.
Another question raised by Cllr Georgiou relates to a meeting of the children, young people and education scrutiny panel which was held on 20th October 2021 and included a discussion on the council’s Holiday Activities and Food Programme (HAF) which distributes funding from the Department for Education. Cllr Anyanwu chaired the meeting as a substitute because the regular chair was absent, but says she did not declare her interest in Smokey Okey at that meeting because the company had not yet begun receiving funding from it – a first payment of £7,200 was made in December that year.
Smokey Okey went on to receive tens of thousands more through further rounds of HAF funding in 2022. The programme is aimed at supporting children to eat healthily and stay active through the school holidays.
Cllr Georgiou says that both Enfield Council and Cllr Anyanwu have “serious questions to answer” regarding the various payments made to Smokey Okey and added that “over £60,000 of taxpayer money going to the company of a Labour councillor doesn’t look good to me.”
In response, Cllr Anyanwu said: “I’ve always been open and transparent about my local, family-run business established in 2014. My register of interests are accurate and up to date, having sought advice from the council’s monitoring officer following my election and throughout my time as a councillor.
“Funding secured by Smokey Okey, through an open and public procurement process, including from a time prior to me being elected as a councillor, has paid for more than 13,500 healthy meals to children and families in Enfield from disadvantaged families.
“The company also proudly supports skills and employment for local people, including five young people through the Kick Start apprenticeship scheme.
“Cllr Georgiou has not raised his concerns with me or through the internal council complaints process. By writing to a Conservative secretary of state on this matter, a letter I have not seen, Enfield Conservatives are simply playing party politics in their attempt to run a smear campaign with unfounded accusations.”
A council spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis Enfield Council has ensured that funding has been effectively distributed to local organisations and providers best placed to provide the vital support needed for our most vulnerable young people, families and communities.
“Enfield Council has robust procurement rules in place to ensure good governance. Cllr Chinelo Anyanwu registered her interest in Smokey Okey, a company which received grant funding under the HAF. Cllr Anyanwu also registered the fact that the company had a contract with the council pending in May 2022.
“Cllr Anyanwu was not involved in any subsequent decision to award grant funding to Smokey Okey. Decisions on grant funding are made by council officers.”
Michael Gove has not yet responded to Cllr Georgiou’s letter.
Read More:Enfield Dispatch | Questions over payments made by council to cabinet member’s company