Council leaders in Aberdeen last night revealed that a PR chief at a “rotten borough” English authority is the man they want to transform the city’s public image – even though he has yet to accept their £80,000-a-year job offer.
Takki Sulaiman is currently employed at Tower Hamlets in East London, which has been at the centre of “cronyism and corruption” allegations in recent weeks.
Aberdeen’s deputy council leader Marie Boulton confirmed that Mr Sulaiman, a former Labour councillor, is the preferred candidate to take on a new head of communications and promotion job in the granite city.
The role was created as part of a restructuring of the council, but prompted complaints from opposition members who argued the money could be better spent elsewhere.
Senior members of the Labour-led administration argued that the appointment would help boost the outward perception of an authority which has been dogged by controversy in recent years.
A divisive battle over the future of Union Terrace Gardens was followed by an attempt to ban First Minister Alex Salmond from all council property in the city.
Criticism has also been levelled at the leadership over the £107million Marischal Square revamp of the former council headquarters.
Mrs Boulton, who convened an appointments panel to fill the post, said she was “hopeful” that Mr Sulaiman would accept the job, but played down the media storm surrounding the London borough council.
She said: “We went through a rigorous interview process, we had stakeholder groups involved throughout, the corporate management team interviewed him and he came in front of elected members and the chief executive. All of the groups recognised that he was the preferred candidate.
“We are aware of the criticism that has been levelled at Tower Hamlets, but based on the conversations we had with the chief executive, she was confident and happy to proceed.
“Aberdeen is obviously quite a tough environment to work in, in terms of the media. The city went through problems with Audit Scotland under the previous administration, we have also had our difficulties.”
Mr Sulaiman, who is understood to be earning about £98,000-a-year in his current role, has not yet accepted the job and did not respond to inquiries from the Press and Journal yesterday.
Mrs Boulton pointed out that he had impressed panel members with his experience during the London Olympics and the regeneration of the Tower Hamlets area as a result.
Labour group secretary Willie Young said he was unaware that the top candidate for the new post was a former Labour councillor for Harringey.
He said: “That never even came into it. This was a guy who we were looking at purely on an employment basis, and he came across as by far the best candidate.
“It was a unanimous decision by a cross-party panel, including opposition members.”
With reference to the ongoing troubles at Tower Hamlets, Mr Young added: “I think there is a huge difference between the political administration and an individual, and this individual went through a rigorous process.”
However, Callum McCaig, leader of the opposition SNP group, said: “The very fact that this person who has been offered this spin doctor position at Aberdeen City Council is coming from somewhere branded as a rotten borough begs the question of who in their right mind thinks that this is a good idea.
“When you add the irony of the fact he is a former Labour councillor and Tower Hamlets has been described as a hotbed of cronyism – it would be funny if huge amounts of public money were not being spent on a position that we don’t actually need in the first place.”
Aberdeen City Council’s media team did not respond to a request for comment last night.
Last week, a UK Government minister announced that he was taking control of the “rotten” Tower Hamlets Council.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP said he would appoint a team of commissioners to oversee the running of the local authority.
The move followed a damning investigation which alleged there was evidence of political cronyism and the misuse of public money.
It meant decision-making was taken away from elected mayor, Lutfur Rahman.
Mr Pickles said there could be “no place for rotten boroughs in 21st Century Britain”.