Former Hackney councillor Sophie Linden has been accepted as London’s deputy mayor for policing and crime despite her “disappointing” curriculum vitae that was described as the “worst CV ever seen”.
At a meeting of the London Assembly’s police and crime committee at City Hall last month (9 June), Ms Linden was grilled by members about her experience and aptitude for the job.
The police and crime committee examines the work of the Mayor’s office for policing and crime (MOPAC), which oversees the Metropolitan Police. The committee also looks into issues relating to policing and crime in the capital.
Sophie Linden had been previously announced by Mayor Sadiq Khan as his choice of candidate for the office and was invited to a confirmation hearing, at which committee members were to decide whether to veto or accept the Mayor’s nominee.
Prior to the meeting in the Chamber at City Hall, the relevant paperwork had been circulated to the committee, which included Sophie Linden’s CV and supporting statement, along with a letter from Mayor Khan to the chair, London Assembly member Steve O’Connell (Conservative).
Proceedings kicked off at 10am and Ms Linden was questioned first by Mr O’Connell regarding her suitability for the role.
Commenting on Ms Linden’s curriculum vitae and supporting statement he spoke of the committee’s concern about the lack of detail: “We were deeply disappointed at the paucity and shortness of your CV … it was probably ill-advised,” he said.
“Then when we came back to you for further information – bear in mind we’re trying to understand your abilities and what you do, to support your application – the information that then came back equally was short, and that has disconcerted us.”
Mr O’Connell then outlined the general approach the committee was to take: “That’s why we’re probably going to be probing quite a lot about your suitability for the role, because if those questions had been answered in the CV, we wouldn’t necessarily need to,” he said.
Ms Linden was asked her about her experience outside the political environment by London Assembly member Peter Whittle (UKIP).
Ms Linden spent some minutes reminding the committee of the importance of experience within the political environment.
She then said that she had been a school governor for a number of years, sat on the board of the charity Groundwork, and used to help run a playgroup when her children were young.
“I think it’s [a] very important because obviously there is a sense increasingly with our public appointments that they grow, as it were, out of a kind of political culture, that’s all, and so one has to get a more rounded sense,” said Mr Whittle.
In answer to a further question by Mr Whittle, she also confirmed that her first job after leaving university was as a researcher to David Blunkett.
Public Space Protection Orders
London Assembly member Sian Berry (Green) asked Ms Linden about her political record in Hackney.
Ms Berry questioned Ms Linden about policing and crime “partnerships and balance, and where you draw the line between help and enforcement”, and raised the issue of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs).
“Hackney last year had quite a controversial process introducing those, where initially it seemed there was no active engagement with the community about the measures, and if there had been, it might have picked up problems by including rough sleeping in the measures,” said Ms Berry.
“I wanted to ask what have you learned from that process, and about community engagement and consultation and how it affects your approach now to how these measure are used more widespread across London?” she asked.
Ms Linden provided some context to introduction and subsequent withdrawal of the PSPO which she described as a “difficult and bruising encounter”.
“We were trying to tackle some quite deep-seated anti-social behaviour, which was in a specific area of Hackney, and did involve street drinkers, some rough sleepers and some beggars. It wasn’t an attempt to criminalise or outlaw rough sleeping…” said Ms Linden.
“What I’ve definitely learnt … is the absolute importance of much wider public consultation, not just statutory consultation…
“What we didn’t realise, what we didn’t factor in enough, was the much wider interest in that.”
Senior member of ministerial team
Ms Linden was also quizzed about her previous political role at national level.
“As a special advisor to [Home Secretary] David Blunkett would you say you were a senior member of his team?,” asked London Assembly member Keith Prince (Conservative).
“I was a member of his special advisor team. I was one of four special advisors, it was again, a political appointment,” replied Ms Linden.
“Would you say you were a senior member of that team?” Mr Prince asked again.
“I would say that a special advisor is a senior member of the ministerial team, yes,” Ms Linden replied.
Undeclared past directorships
Mr Prince also quizzed Sophie Linden about the quality of, and gaps in, the CV she had submitted.
“I have to say in my many years of employee people and seeing people for interview, this has to have been the worst CV I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” he said.
“I just wondered why you didn’t feel that we didn’t need to know more about you, and that you felt contemptuous enough that this would be sufficient for anyone to employ anyone, frankly.
Ms Linden offered to remedy the situation, along with an explanation of her thinking: “Can I just apologise for that, and if you would like me to, I’m very happy to put on the record a fuller CV.
“It’s a difficult thing to judge, what level of information you’re after – I’m very happy to provide that.”
Mr Prince continued: “I notice that you’ve also made some significant omissions on your CV.
“I believe that you’ve held at least two or three other directorships which you’ve failed to mention, and I wonder why you chose to withhold that information?” Mr Prince asked.
Reiterating her earlier offer to provide more details, Ms Linden also added: “I suppose it was a difficult decision as to how much to put on the CV as it was going on the public record.”
However she was puzzled as to what Mr Prince was referring to: “I’m not quite sure what other directorships you’re thinking about, I’m sorry,” she said.
Keith Prince asked: “You don’t know, you’re not aware of any other directorships?”
“I have no other directorships,” Ms Linden replied.
Mr Prince persisted: “In the past, you’ve not had other directorships?
“I’ve been a director at Bell Pottinger Public Affairs,” said Ms Linden.
“And Groundwork?” probed Mr Prince.
“As I said at the beginning, I sat on the board for Groundwork,” she replied.
“These are just Companies House directorships that I’ve drawn up,” Mr Prince explained, holding up a sheet of paper.
“I’d like to see them because I’m not sure what…” she replied, before being interrupted by Mr Prince: “If you go on the website for Companies House, you’ll see which companies you’ve been a director of.”
According to Companies House records, Sophie Linden previously has been director of three companies:
31 May 2006 – 1 October 2009, director of Groundwork East London
19 May 2009 – 29 November 2010, director of Groundwork London
8 December 2009 – 9 December 2013, director of Local Information Unit Limited
London Assembly member Kemi Badenoch (Conservative) asked Sophie Linden about her initial approach to the committee: “When you were announced as a candidate for the role of deputy mayor for policing and crime, how many members of the committee did you meet with, following the announcement?”
Ms Linden pointed out that she had asked to meet with all members and had managed to meet with some.
“You haven’t actually been confirmed yet. Do you think it’s appropriate to meet the people who will be confirming you before the actual hearing?” asked Ms Badenoch.
Ms Linden said that it was not an attempt to persuade, rather an attempt to talk to assembly members about the issues.
“So you weren’t trying to sweeten us up before…?” asked Ms Badenoch.
However Ms Linden was quick to point out the shortcoming of that strategy: “Well if I was, it didn’t work, did it?” – to all-round laughter.
Ms Badenoch questioned Ms Linden’s judgment, following a reply to her question about the arrangements for the meetings with members.
MOPAC had organised them, said Ms Linden.
“Do you think you should be using MOPAC resources already, before being confirmed?” asked Ms Badenoch.
“I was the nominated candidate for the Mayor. I felt it was important to try to prepare myself for this question time. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask to meet the members of the committee, said Ms Linden.
Ms Badenoch was critical: “It might not be depending on your intention, but I do think it’s inappropriate to use resources that you’re not officially confirmed to have control over.
“So that for me was a little bit disappointing because that is an indicator of not being particularly respectful of the committee or the assembly.”
However Ms Linden sought to defend her decision: “I would say that, for me, the opposite is the case. The fact that I wanted to meet with members of the committee showed my respect because it was important for me to … develop relationships from the start,” she said.
Ms Badenoch was unconvinced: “We’ve all had interviews before, [but] I’ve never been in a position where I could start using the resources of a job before I actually got it.”
The chair Steve O’Connell waded in: “I’d endorse that. I was surprised to be approached for a formal meeting via MOPAC before confirmation. It was just awkward. Poor judgment, which worries me.”