Wednesday 5 February 2014

Respecting Brent Council's Constitution

This is the 'Soap Box' delivered by local resident Philip Grant at the Kingsbury Connects forum last night. Apparently it was well received by the 40 or so people present.

I will begin by reading three short extracts from Brent’s Constitution:

The purpose of the Constitution is to support the active involvement of citizens in the process of local authority decision-making. (Article 1.4)

The Council is committed to involving the community through effective consultation and two-way communication. (Article 10.1)

The Council recognises that meaningful participation can only take place ... where community spirit is fostered so that people care enough to want to take part, and are encouraged to do so. (Part of Article 10.2)

Last October I was one of six local history society members who “cared enough” to take part in a stakeholder meeting at the Civic Centre, to contribute ideas which will help the Council to draft a new Museum and Archives Strategy. That Strategy will go out for public consultation next month, and be decided this Spring.

At the meeting on 16 October we asked that a staff restructuring exercise at Museum and Archives should be put “on hold” until the new Strategy was in place. The Head of Libraries, Arts and Heritage, who had only told staff about her plans the previous month, would not discuss this, claiming it was ‘an internal matter’.
Our request made sense, because until the Strategy had been consulted on and decided, how could anyone know what staff would be needed to deliver it? This Officer’s actions were undermining any effective consultation on the Strategy, because she was imposing her ideas of what staffing the service needed, while the decision-making process was still taking place.

I contacted Senior Officers at Environment and Neighbourhoods about this breach of the commitments in Brent’s Constitution. They ignored the constitutional point and simply backed their Officer’s actions, refusing to discuss the matter further. I complained to Brent’s Interim Chief Executive, and she also declined to take any action, while sidestepping the clear breach of Brent’s Constitution which was involved.

This is one of a number of examples I have come across in the past three years where Brent’s Officers have ignored what are supposed to be Council commitments about consulting with the community, and engaging in proper two-way communication. 

I believe that much better results can be achieved for our community by local people, Council Officers and Councillors working together. I try to work positively with the Council in areas where I can help, but community involvement needs to be seen to work in practice.

I have written an open letter to the Leader of the Council, and to the leaders of the other political parties on the Council, about this problem. I would ask that they work together to find a solution to it, so that everyone at Brent Council respects the commitments in its Constitution, for the benefit of our community.


claremounties said...

Bravo Sir.

Alex Colas said...

As always Phil, you're a credit to our Borough, speaking eloquently and calmly what many of us find hard to convey without anger and exasperation. Brent's democratic deficit, as illustrated by your own case, will be at the centre of my electoral campaign with Make Willesden Green.