Cabinet member moves to Bedfordshire for MP campaign effort

Alistair Strathern, lead councillor for ‘fifteen-minute neighbourhoods’, has come under criticism after moving one hour away for his bid to replace Nadine Dorries as Mid-Bedfordshire MP, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Alistair Strathern – taken from a post he made on Nextdoor

Waltham Forest’s lead councillor for “fifteen-minute neighbourhoods” has moved a one-hour drive away to Bedfordshire as part of a campaign to be elected as a member of parliament.

Alistair Strathern, who is a member of Grace William’s cabinet, was selected as Labour’s candidate for Nadine Dorries’ Mid-Bedfordshire seat in June.

Since then he has regularly promoted his door-step campaign on social media and has called Dorries a “part-time MP” who has let her constituency down.

Earlier this month Cllr Strathern then appeared on a neighbourhood social media platform, Nextdoor, introducing himself as a fellow resident of Shefford, Bedfordshire.

When contacted for comment, he said his “main address” is now in Shefford – about 45miles drive from Waltham Forest – but he is regularly back in the borough “working hard for those who elected me”.

Cllr Strathern told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Over the last week I’ve been handling case work ranging from serious housing challenges to issues with overgrown hedges, and been hard at work getting out and about to speak to residents about our let’s talk campaign, including a great street walk around Leytonstone.

“To free up time for my Mid Bed’s campaign I have taken unpaid leave from my work at the Bank of England, ensuring my candidacy does not infringe on my commitments working for people in Waltham Forest.”

There is no legal requirement for councillors to live in the local authority they represent once they are elected.

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According to the Electoral Commission, candidates to be councillors must be registered to vote, occupy or own land, work or live in the local authority area in the twelve months before a local election.

However, alongside his role representing Higham Hill ward Cllr Strathern is a cabinet member for fifteen-minute neighbourhoods, meaning he receives an allowance of £26,201 per year on top of his basic councillors’ allowance of £11,576.

Until recently, Cllr Strathern also balanced his cabinet role at the council with a job at the Bank of England, although the bank’s spokesperson has refused to confirm whether he worked there, calling any information it holds about him “personal information”.

Waltham Forest’s Conservative group leader Emma Best wished Cllr Strathern well in his general election campaign but her party would not accept residents “getting a worse deal because of it”.

She added: “If he truly has moved to Bedfordshire he should do the right thing and allow a councillor rooted in the borough to take on this work which includes a massive project of summer engagement with our residents.

“This is a flagship policy for this administration and the community deserves someone in post who is committed to delivering it.

“Unless 15-minute neighbourhoods include air travel he certainly isn’t living this work out on the ground.”

Responding to Cllr Best’s comments, council leader Grace Williams welcomed her “interest in this matter” but said Cllr Strathern is “perfectly capable” of fulfilling his cabinet duties while campaigning.

The Labour leader pointed out that the Cllr Best has herself just lost a bid to become her party’s MP for Broxbourne, Hertfordshire.

She added: “Councillor Best more than anyone will appreciate that you can hold roles in local government, as the official leader of the opposition in Waltham Forest and as a Greater London Assembly Member and still stand for national office outside London.”

15-minute neighbourhoods is a term usually used to describe designing a city to make sure that everything a person needs – such as work, shopping, education and healthcare – is within a 15-minute walk of where they live.

The council’s 15-minute neighbourhood “corporate framework” approved earlier this year appears not to contain any specific physical plans but sits alongside £500million in council building projects over the next five years.

The framework instead focuses on “experiences” in a neighbourhood as well as “things” and follows three main themes: everyone taking part and fulfilling their potential; benefitting from shared prosperity; and improving the borough together.

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