Thursday 29 May 2014

Brent Labour concentrates power in proposed constitutional changes

The Brent Council Executive will be replaced by a Cabinet of between three and ten members in constitutional changes going before Full Council on Wednesday 4th June. Report HERE

Along with other proposed changes the overall impact is greater centralisation of power in fewer hands. The changes enable Muhammed Butt to reduce the size of the new Cabinet compared with the previous Executive if he so wishes. There have been rumours that this may happen but other sources suggest that a reduction would leave a large number of potentially disruptive Labour councillors disgruntled by thwarted ambitions.

The new Labour group is meeting on Saturday to decide positions in the new adminstration.

Half of Cabinet Meetings will now take place during the day, alternating with evening meetings. At the same time the Council's five scrutiny committees will be reduced to one.

Deputations will now be allowed at meetings of Full Council, allocated a maximum of 15 minutes with a maximum of 5 minutes per speaker. The criteria for such delegations are limiting and leave a considerable amount of power with the officers:
Any deputation must directly concern a matter affecting the borough and relate to a Council function. Deputations shall not relate to legal proceedings or be a matter which is or has been the subject of a complaint under the Council's complaints processes. Nor should a deputation be frivolous, vexatious or defamatory. The Director of Legal and Procurement [Fiona Ledden] shall have discretion to decide whether the deputation is for any reason inappropriate and cannot proceed.
There shall be a maximum of 3 deputations at any one council meeting on different subject matters. There shall be no more than one deputation made by the same person or organisation in a six month period and no repetition of the subject.
Standing Order 40 for Full Council which allowed for debate on 'Key Issues affecting the borough' is deleted as 'it no longer serves a purpose'.

Standing Order 39 'Questions from the Opposition and Non-Executive Members' will be amended to provide that questions are given in writing 7 days in advance with no supplementary questions allowed. The number of questions will be amended 'to reflect the new political balance of the Council'.

Further it is proposed under Standing Order 45 that 'the number of motions and the debate in relating to motions be amended to reflect the new political balance of the Council.

Following the Labour landslide the membership of Council committees is revised with no Liberal Democrat representation:

General Purposes Labour 9 Conservative 1
Planning Labour 10 Conservative 1
Audit Labour 4 Conservative 1
Standards Labour 4 Conservative 1
Corporate Parenting Labour 4 Conservative 1

The Scrutiny Committee, now a single entity and clearly important in terms of holding the Council to account, will have 7 Labour and 1 Conservative member plus 4 voting co-opted members and 2 non-voting co-opted members. This gives the Labour members a voting majority.

Only Labour and Conservatives will qualify for the appointment of political assistants.

The Appendix below which contains tracked changes to the Constitution reveals the extent of the proposals:


Anonymous said...

Smaller Council, smaller Exec - makes sense

Anonymous said...

So much for accountable and democratic Brent Council.

This is exactly what thé electorate probably did not realize would happen when voting for Labour.

So much for scrutiny and accountability as it is thrown down thé drain.

Looks like Gilbert, Davani & co will be able to do as they Please and have even more influence.

Anonymous said...

Brent Mayor with full powers coming next !

In 2012 Tower Hamlets Mayor Rahman (who worked closely with Gilbert when she was at Toser Hamlets) changed consitution so he could decide and award any Grant or funding over £1,000

Councillor Butt seems to be following in his footsteps !

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ. Kim Jong Il has nothing on Cllr Butt

Meg Howarth said...

It'll be interesting to see whether Islington Council pays more heed to Barry Gardiner's advice on scrutiny than does Brent - lead letter below in today's Islington Gazette, sister-paper of the Brent & Kilburn Times:

'Dear Letters Editor,

Sixty-two per cent of Islington's electorate didn't bother to vote in last Thursday's local election. Despite the Greens polling almost 20% of the total votes recorded across the borough, and Labour around 56%, the Green Party's Caroline Russell is now the sole official opposition on a council of 47 Labour Party councillors. Something clearly doesn't add up.

Under a system of Proportional Representation (PR), the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates would be proportionate to the number of votes received, so Islington Greens - the second most-popular party in the borough - would now have roughly 20% of council seats, Labour 56% (approximately 9 and 27 councillors respectively). Other parties would be similarly represented.

The Labour Party doesn't support PR and it can't be introduced unilaterally but it would do well to heed the words of Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North, speaking on Thursday after the Brent count: '...a majority this big for any party means that we have to look within ourselves for the sort of scrutiny that we need of the policies that we ourselves are proposing' (Brent & Kilburn Times) - Brent had just returned 7 opposition councillors. What would the MP have to say about Islington's lone voice?

Islington is now effectively a one-party statelet. But there is something simple the new executive could do to reduce the serious democratic deficit our ridiculous 'first past the post' voting system has thrown up. It could, and should, withdraw the 'whip' from its backbenchers, allowing them to vote freely rather than being forced to follow the party line.

Yes, we still have our local press and citizens' blogs to hold the politicians to account, and these will be more important than ever. But the antediluvian, autocratic practice of 'whipping' - the very word says it all - has no place in progressive twenty-first-century politics.

If Richard Watts wants to make a distinctive mark as council leader, Alan Johnson's words on the eve of the 2010 elections could prove helpful: 'It is empowering the voters that matters. [PR] is a system that is democratic rather than politicians being able to say it gives us strong governance'. The same can be said of dropping the whip. Left unchecked, the borough's new status quo is a threat to democratic accountability.

Representative democracy, eh? Funny business.

Footnote: it seems that 41% of [Islington] residents voted in the European Parliamentary election, as against the 38% in the local.

Anonymous said...

Some of these comments are losing touch with reality.The Overview and Scrutiny changes are a mixed bag, in my view. On the one hand, the provision for the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to set up Task and Finish Groups could produce some serious work that could be very useful, both in terms of policy development work that takes into account the views of a wide range of people, and 'holding to account' work that keeps both officers and the Cabinet on their toes. But the scrutiny function will need to be well resourced and serviced and run transparently. On the other hand, a single OSC is bound to run into problems of having too much to do – health & social care issues alone require a separate committee, and dealing with the budget properly really needs a separate committee or sub-committee or a Task and Finish group working for most of the year. I look forward to seeing what evidence is put forward to justify these changes as guaranteed to produce more effective governance.....

Alison Hopkins said...

As the last chair of Budget and Finance OSC I can tell you it's a big job if you do it properly and we took it very seriously - cross party at that. The skills needed for finance scrutiny are indeed quite different from, say, health. I have a business background and my vice chairs were both accountants, as were some of the committee members. We did some very searching work and made detailed recommendations to the executive. (Probably ignored, but that's another story.)

The constitutional changes are a disgrace. Brent should go back to a committee model - ideally, as free from whips as possible. I do remember when full council meetings actually had debates, and real ones at that. No longer, it seems, and they will be even more meaningless. But perhaps it will give some the time to catch up with Twitter or reading.

Yes, I too wonder if the next step is a mayoral referendum. We are on a very slippery and dangerous downward slope. Back to the days of Bent Brent?

Anonymous said...

We will soon see who is loosing touch, when decisions are simply rubber stamped with very little scrutiny and no ability to challenge those decisions.

Lorber complained there was little he could do when challenging most decisions and he had 17 on his side.

This is a very sad day for democracy when only 1/3 people come out to vote and Labour only received just over 50% of votes cast, but ends up with 90% of Councillor seats and can now do as they please.

This is not democracy.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

What is very troubling is that Brent constitution can even be changed in this way, without any ability for the voting public to object via elected representatives.

It will be interesting to see if any Labour Councillor votes against this constitutional proposal, although as a PR exercise there might be a token couple who are told to vote against, so that it makes it look as though there is some opposition.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what you say Alison but LibDems were happy to whip their councillors too, are you now against having a whip at all?

Anonymous said...

It's pretty easy to maintain group discipline when there's only one of you.

Alison Hopkins said...

I can tell you that in the years I was a councillor we were never whipped. And we also pledged a return to the committee system. If you'd ever seen our group meetings, we were (and still are!) very much indviduals. I voted for Labour motions sometimes, if I thought they had merit,

It isn't the first time the constitution has been changed like this. And this must have been in the pipeline for months, you don't suddenly fish out a major change in this way.

Alison Hopkins said...

Paul got hugely frustrated in General Purposes and other committees, as did we all. I was gobsmacked at the degree of ignorance shown about HR issues, for example. That's from a business background.

Meg Howarth said...

One party-statelets: the new rotten boroughs - time for electoral reform

Anonymous said...

Then why have you never advertised that you don't whip councillors. And why is it not LibDem policy to abolish the whip? More porky pies I think....

Anonymous said...

Why didn't anyone from Lib Dems speak up about Copland ?

Brent Lib Dems could resurrect themselves if they supported a Judicial Review over Copland.

A Judicial Review over Copland would be out of Brent's hands and would be a positive step in the right direction, in terms of trying to establish the truth about Copland. A Judicial Review might actually help put a stop to Gilbert's power grab.

Unknown said...

Agree with Anonymous 29 May 2014 21:26:

Me: "Paul Lorber told the BK times that he thinks BrentLibdems make a 'pointless' contribution to council meetings so they don't bother turning up."
Libdems: "It is pointless, Brent Labour are all whipped and all the meetings are predecided"
Me: "So if you feel this way, when elected, why don't you pledge to abandon the whipping system like The Green Party has" (
Libdems: ... .... .. ..... ........


Scott Bartle

Alison Hopkins said...

I'm vastly amused at the idea of trying to whip the people I worked with, but that's based on what I saw in group meetings. I'm in favour of consensus, debate and discussion. I think that's pretty dead in Brent.

Anonymous said...

Is that also why Lib Dem Councillors thought there was no point in attending Council meetings but thought no problem in collecting their allowances??

Yeah....the Brent Lib Dems have a real track record of carrying out their roles properly and providing value for money

Alison Hopkins said...

Copland isn't in my ward, never been there, I know no students or teachers there and I do not think it right to comment from a position of genuine ignorance about the school. There are other schools I could and would happily comment on. I do have some experience of trying to get JRs.

As to the rest, this debate ought to be about the death of democracy in Brent and electoral corruption. That overrides all.

Anonymous said...

Alison you seem ignorant of the fact that a high percentage of students attending Copland were not residing in Wembley, but were actually living in surrounding wards including the ward you represented.

You should have stood up for the educational rights of these young people.

Surely being a Councillor does not simply mean that you only focus on issues confined to the boundaries of your ward ?

This is something all Lib Dems should reflect on and might have been a contributing factor if you were not fully aware of issues that impact on ward constituents.

Anonymous said...

Alison you say the debate ought to be about death of democracy, well how about using your experience in getting JR on Copland.

Democracy might then start to return. If you are not aware, one of the significant issues with Copland is the conflict of interest with Baroness Morgan as chair of OFSTED, soon to depart and therefore having direct influence on IEB and her position as an advisor to Ark Academy.

I find it astonishing in your above statement that you have no knowledge about Copland.

Other Boroughs recently have challenged the IEB on the decision to appoint a favoured Academy via JR and have won.

Over to you Alison.

Alison Hopkins said...

I was never approached by any Dollis Hill parent about Copland. If I had been, I'd have acted and fast. I have worked very closely with Crest and continue to do so.

I don't actually know any Dollis Hill children attending Copland - the ones who don't go to Crest seem to mostly go to Catholic schools in the south of the borough or in Barnet. And Hampstead School of course. Some at Islamia as well. Mind you, given the failure of Gladstone School it may be that some are "forced" to go to Copland, although given the availability at Crest I doubt it.

As to issues outwith the ward, I supported the Queensbury campaign, for example, in no small part because many locals expressed their worries.There's others as well, but I suspect if I cite them someone will call it promotion.

Value for money? My allowance was £12K a year including the SRA for chairing budget and finance. That committee was very important, needed a lot of work outside meetings and delivered. I also chaired the Welsh Harp JCC.

However, the most important thing to me is what I did and will go on doing locally. I reckon that was around forty hours or more a week - and there seems to be no stopping it, either. I don't turn my phone off, even on holiday and people turned up on my doorstep at all hours. I dealt with hundreds of casework tasks, many of them very complex, very time consuming and very lengthy. I don't publicise any of that nor will I - I make that point as a reply to the anonymous challenge.

I could also cite all the many and myriad improvements made to Dollis Hill, the local events, the numerous campaigns. But if someone is determined to believe otherwise, then there's no help for it.

I am very very proud of what I've done here over the decades and I will go on doing it, whether I'm a councillor or not. This is my home, my place, and I care about it deeply. I will not allow it to be spoiled or uncared for.

And yes, full council meetings were pretty pointless even before the latest changes. Sadly, they always are when any party has a large majority and refuses to allow debate. I watched them deteriorate over the last several years to a point where they are a cipher.

Alison Hopkins said...

Putting it bluntly, a JR needs money. A lot of it. The Kensal Rise campaign raised £30K and had a huge amount of pro bono as well. The Brent Cross campaign benefitted massively because Bestway, god bless them, threw a lot of resource at it.

If you can't find the funds elsewhere, the only recourse now is to find someone affected who is in the vanishingly small number of people eligible for legal aid. And you will also need serious find raising efforts.

Do you know any Dollis Hill residents with children at Copland? That could be useful.

Anonymous said...

Agree with above poster 29 May 2014 19:58 about the power of unelected officers: also as someone else has commented, these changes will have been planned since before last week's election - they weren't thought up overnight. Cllr Butt must have been party to the proposals, including the increased power of unelected legal head, Fiona Ledden. Cllr Butt clearly reads WM - as well he should - so is it possible he's missed out on the recent blogs about the Corporate Management Team and the serious allegations about senior officers/their cross-connections via Ofsted/other? That Ms Ledden will now have the power to choose which deputations to the council are acceptable, which unacceptable, is itself unacceptable. Cllr Butt needs to put in some independent scrutiny if his democratic credentials aren't to suffer from the outset of this new council:

Meg Howarth said...

'A Frankenstein monster' created by the first-past-the-post electoral system - editorial in today's Islington Tribune on the make-up of the borough's new council (see also above, 29 May 2014 17:39), which makes some interesting suggestions for increasing resident participation and enhanced scrutiny. Brent's new councillors might like to consider these at tomorrow's meeting - particularly in light of the cross-borough merging of legal responsibilities between Islington, Brent and eight other LAs:

'We suggest the councillors should consider inviting representatives of tenants, leaseholders, pensioners, civic bodies, trade unions and faith organisations to all full council meetings where they would be allowed to speak, even introduce motions, without the right to vote.

'This could be done in tandem with attendance at the key scrutiny committee with the same rights' (link to full editorial here:–-labour’s-opportunity-open-doors-and-let-people)

Anonymous said...

The Libdem ship as sailed. They will never restore trust as they are slippery like cons and labs.

Anonymous said...

Re last sentence: it's already happened.