By Fatima Patel & Jordan Brooks
The continuing COVID-19 pandemic has affected organisations from across sectors. Owner of Bradford Ju-Jitsu club, Onna Ju-Jitsu, has like many in her sector felt the pinch.
Mumtaz Khan told Asian Standard she has had zero income from her sports club, based at Girlington community centre, Onna Ju- Jitsu since the pandemic started in March. “Imagine not having a single earning for your regular bread and butter for nine months. It’s been a real struggle.”
Under Covid guidelines, organised indoor, combat and contact sport have been banned since lockdown started preventing Mumtaz from running her popular Ju-Jitsu classes.
As a result, Mumtaz asked Girlington Community Centre, for rent support in May 2020. She was asked to complete an assessment form to see if she ‘deserved’ rent support.
Feeling that the form was too intrusive, asking details about her income from January onwards, she contacted Community Action Bradford. They stated she didn’t need to provide the requested information, as ‘what they were asking was unreasonable’.
Following communication exchanges between Mumtaz and the board, the management board finally wrote on 25 June:
“After carefully considering the information that you have provided in your completed form and a discussion in person with yourself, we as the management board have come to a decision that we are unable to reduce or waiver the rent from March 2020 to date as requested. As a community organisation that also relies on funds from elsewhere and those generated from the hire of space facilities, we would be placing the organisation at a financial risk.”
The forty-seven-year-old Bradford woman had hoped that the centre could at least pass on fuel savings since her rent included gas and electricity, but this was not offered.
Exchanges between the management of the centre and Mumtaz continued until late August. The management insisted that until she proved hardship, they couldn’t help her.
Mumtaz says, “I have never asked for financial support from the centre for over a decade and have always paid my rent on time if not early – today when I need the support there is none. Over the years I have put up with a poorly maintained space, poor fire systems and continued over-looking these issues, but now I can’t, as I have had zero income from my core business Onna Ju-Jitsu.”
“The management haven’t offered me anything except use of their big hall where the fire system isn’t working properly. I will be putting my young people at risk.”
Mumtaz aired her frustrations on Twitter.
On 31 October 2020 Mumtaz tweeted @ OnnaJuJitsuClub asking Susan Hinchcliffe and Naz Shah MP for support in connection with being charged full rent by Girlington Community Association (Centre). @samuelkirby replied to @OnnaJuJitsu on 6 November saying: “The centre will of qualified for the £10,000 rate relief grant from the council. Part of the conditions of that grant is that if you have tenants you are to pass some of it on by means of savings against rent. That’s what we did at Sutton.” @OnnaJuJitsuClub replied: “That’s interesting because they have not passed any of it onto me! @SHinchcliffe @NazShahBfd @kersten_england @ FoziaShaheen3 Can we please have some from @bradfordmdc look into this? @ Bradford_TandA”
“I only asked for support, but Cllr Fozia Shaheen chose to slam my tweet.” Mumtaz explained. “Instead of being independent and impartial Cllr Shaheen totally took the centre’s side and instead of offering a solution, chose to comment on the people I had tagged in and request an asset transfer from the council. I mean what has an asset transfer got to do with supporting a local business that is struggling during the pandemic?”
Following a freedom of information request, Asian Standard discovered that Girlington Community Centre has not paid any rent to the council since April 2019. Accounts at Companies House covering the period 1 April 2019 – 31 March 2020 reveal over £140,000 in reserves. This questions the centre’s statement to Mumtaz on 25 June that they ‘would be placing the organisation at a financial risk’ if they didn’t rely on Onna Ju-Jitsu’s rental income.
Mo Ali, chair of the Girlington Community Centre board stated: “We ask all of our tenants to contact the centre / management if they are still struggling with their rent so that we can consider their circumstances on an individual basis and provide any relevant support where necessary. The board absolutely recognises the need for support within these difficult times and has an absolute commitment to support all those that use the centre.”
“We absolutely understand the pressure on businesses and have always encouraged tenants to seek the assistance of Government grants and advice / support from Bradford Council where appropriate.”
Further investigations revealed, Cllr Fozia Shaheen, who has a full-time job at the Khidmat Centre and receives a £15,000 plus allowance as a councillor, had created a community interest company called Dream Big, Aim High CIC, applied on 11 November 2020 and registered on Companies House on 15 November 2020 listing as activities: Sports and recreation, education, Residential care activities for learning difficulties, mental health and substance abuse, Residential care activities for the elderly and disabled, Activities of sport clubs.
Mumtaz questioned how far these conflict with Shaheen’s councillor role since “Why would a councillor choose to set up a company with her brother, Nasar Hussain and Mohammed Rauf an existing tenant at the community centre, when such services already exist?”
Thirty-four-year-old Cllr Shaheen has been promoting the business on her social media asking for donations but has not been transparent about her position as a Director.
Checking the Bradford council website on 18 December Asian Standard discovered Cllr Fozia Shaheen had not declared her company on her Register of Member’s Financial and other interests. The Localism Act of 2011, requires for local government members to register pecuniary and other interests, failing to register interests could result in a criminal offence.
After Asian Standard questioned Cllr Shaheen on 21 Dec, the form was subsequently changed, with an addition in the section asking: Are you a member of or part of any public authority or body exercising functions of a public nature?
The new hand-written addition reads: Director CIC Community JF 16/12/20, but the initial stamp was 25 Jun 2019.
We questioned Cllr Fozia Shaheen about her impartiality towards Girlington Community Centre on @OnnaJuJitsu twitter thread, the request for an Asset transfer and why she hadn’t declared her Directorship in the community interest company Dream Big Aim High.
She responded: “A CIC is a legal entity which exists purely to benefit the community rather than private shareholders, as such neither I nor any other Director will receive any wages or remuneration from this. It has been set up as a non-profit making not for profit organisation. It was established following concerns about the impact of Covid, the increase in isolation and depression amongst various people in the community. The aims will be to empower, women and girls in particular through sports to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.
“I’m not on the Board of Girlington Community Centre but as a local facility that serves the residents I represent, I will always back them with their plans to make sure they can sustain themselves in these difficult times.
“The CIC has only just been set up. As volunteers, we are not financially trading yet and have no bank account. I have been quite open about my involvement in this community interest company which is run purely for a social purpose and from which I draw no financial reward. Regards to the public knowing of my role as a Director, this has never been hidden, nor the purpose been a secret. My name is on the company house website, so not hidden and neither is there any agenda for it to be hidden. No funds have been raised using my councillor role. I have declared my interest in the CIC to the Council although have been advised by the City Solicitor that as I am not remunerated in that role there is no real reason to do so. Any donations made to the work are done so to partner organisations so that they are able to keep control of what is donated and where it would be spent. Given Covid-19 our only initiative at the moment is to work with a host of volunteers so that we can distribute food and winter resources to vulnerable adults and children over the Christmas period.”
“My role within the Khidmat Centre is as the Manager of the Learning Disabilities Project. The work that I am doing with Girlington Centre is not in conflict in any sense.”Her poster advertising for donations asks people to contact COUNCILLOR Fozia Shaheen and not Fozia Shaheen. Asian Standard has also seen a Whatsapp message from the Well Girlington Whatsapp group, dated 22 December where Cllr Shaheen has shared that she has received ‘financial support’ for her Dream Big, Aim High project.
Two of Cllr Fozia Shaheen’s cricket pals, Shivanie Patel and Tayyba Parveen have also recently been recruited to the Girlington Community Centre Management board.
A complaint about Cllr Shaheen’s conduct has now been made, together with questions about the setting up of this CIC, and funding applications while suitable services already exist.
In light of all the information serious questions arise about the integrity and the ethical operation of the community centre and an elected member whose duty is to conform to the highest standards of conduct and to uphold the Nolan principles (the basis of the ethical standards expected of public office holders). Should Cllr Fozia Shaheen have been more supportive towards Mumtaz Khan’s appeal for support? Should the community centre offer Mumtaz rent support? Should councillors be setting up organisations where there are already similar organisations/services being offered with an intention to ‘procure’? Should, councillors be more transparent about ownership of their organisation on their publicity or should the public have to look it up?
These are all questions we leave for you the public to decide.