Sunday, 20 July 2014

A 'secret' meeting with Councillor Butt

Guest blog by Philip Grant

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The need for independent investigation of a number of important matters which appear to be going wrong within Brent Civic Centre has been the subject of a number of “blogs”, and hundreds of comments on them, in the past few months, most recently in Martin’s article about ‘Diminishing democracy in Brent’ on 13 July:- 


I was one of the people who urged our Council Leader, Cllr. Muhammed Butt, to publicly answer the allegations which were being made, both in comments made and in emails sent to him both before and after the local elections in May. I also had outstanding matters from a letter I had given to him on 4 February 2014, at a “Brent Connects” meeting where I had spoken out in a “soapbox” slot about Senior Council Officers failing to honour commitments in Brent’s Constitution about proper consultation and working effectively with the community (the report back to the following “Brent Connects” meeting in April had incorrectly informed the public that ‘the Leader’s Office has responded to Mr Grant’).

I was therefore pleased when one of my emails finally received a reply, from Cllr. Butt himself, on 24 May saying: 

‘Let’s meet up soon so that we can discuss the points that you have been highlighting. I need to be appointed as leader again on June 4th at the agm of the council and if all goes ahead fine we can sit down soon afterwards.’

After some delays at his office, I finally met with Cllr. Butt, and his assistant Thomas Cattermole, in his office at the Civic Centre on Thursday 26 June. I am a retired Civil Servant, and right at the start of the meeting I made it clear that I wished to make a written record of our discussions. This is how I recorded it in the “Introduction” to my notes of the meeting (the only part of them which I feel I can disclose, for reasons which will become apparent):


 

‘PG said that, through habit from his working life, he would be making notes of their discussions, and would send MB a typed copy of these, inviting him to agree the notes or to let him know what changes he thought were needed to make them an accurate record. MB indicated that he was happy with that, and invited PG to go ahead with his points.’

The three main sections of my typed notes are headed: ‘2. “Respecting Brent’s Constitution”’ (the title of my February 2014 “soapbox” slot), ‘3. Staff Restructuring’ and ‘4. Allegations of Serious Irregularities by Senior Council Staff’. Unfortunately there was not as much time as I would have liked to deal with the last point, as Cllr. Butt was called away to take part in a Citizenship Ceremony which was taking place elsewhere in the Civic Centre.

I prepared a typed note from the manuscript notes I had made at the meeting, and sent a copy of this to Cllr. Butt on 29 June with the following email, which was also copied to his secretary:

Dear Councillor Butt, 

Thank you for meeting with me last Thursday. 

I am attaching a copy of my typed note of our discussions. I would be grateful if you and/or Thomas Cattermole could find time to read through it and confirm that you are happy with it as a fair record of the meeting, or let me know what changes you would like me to make, either to amend points that I have not recorded correctly or to insert any material points from what was said which I may have failed to include. 

Would you have any objection to me sending a copy of these notes, once agreed, to Martin Francis as a possible "guest blog" item for his Wembley Matters site? My original "Soapbox" on Respecting Brent's Constitution appeared there as a guest blog, and you will be aware that the allegations I referred to at our meeting were made in blogs or comments on them at that site. As the notes of our discussions answer some of the points raised online, I would be willing to put them forward for publication, even though this might attract some personal abuse from anonymous commentators calling me a "stooge" or worse, although I cannot promise that Martin would agree to publish them. You would, of course, be free to copy the agreed notes to anyone you wished, or to use them in a blog item yourself. 

Best wishes, 

Philip Grant

As I had not received a reply, or even an acknowledgement, by 10 July I sent a reminder, and the following email was sent to me at 6pm on Friday 18 July:-

Dear Mr Grant

I am responding to your email on Cllr Butt’s behalf. I apologise for the delay in responding to your email.

Thank you for your notes; it was a pleasure to meet with you when you met with the Leader.

Thank you for sending your personal notes of the meeting. I appreciate that no notes can ever represent an exact record of a meeting, but I feel that your notes do not represent a rounded reflection of the private discussion between yourself and the Leader and it is for this reason that we would ask you not to publish or circulate these notes further.

Yours sincerely 

Thomas Cattermole
           The London Borough of Brent


If the notes that I prepared did not ‘represent a rounded reflection’ of the discussions which took place, why did Cllr. Butt or Mr Cattermole not reply sooner, suggesting whatever amendments they thought should be made to make the notes a fair record of the meeting, as I had invited them to do? During my working life I had prepared dozens notes of meetings in this way, and had often amended them where necessary to arrive at an agreed record, which could then be referred to by either party, if required, in the course of settling matters which were under review. I prided myself on acting reasonably, and with integrity, and for the same reasons I feel that I must respect the request ‘not to publish or circulate’ my notes further.

I feel that this is a great pity. One matter which I recorded, in particular, answers a specific allegation which had been raised in comments on a very well-read blog item last May. Other comments by Cllr. Butt which I recorded give a more general answer to criticisms of the Council which I raised with him. Why does the Council Leader not want this information “on record” and in the public domain? Other parts of the notes record items which were, perhaps, not as favourable to the Council, but that is what you would expect in ‘rounded’ discussions. 

I believe it would be in the interests of local democracy and transparency if a “fair record” of my discussions with Cllr. Butt on 26 June 2014 could be agreed and made publicly available. That offer is still there, but unless it is taken up by the Council Leader, I’m afraid it will have to go down as a “secret” meeting.

Philip Grant

18 comments:

  1. While done Philip for speaking out.

    It would seem you are from of a generation where Civil Servants accepted the need for public accountability. The current bunch if civil servants in colusion with elected members seem to think they can simply run riot without any accountability.

    A very sad day for this so called democracy.

    Keep yo the fight Philip

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  2. Dear Philip.

    Well done for your personal attempt to hold a public body to account on 26 June: it shows just how important it is for individual members of the public never to lose sight of the fact that public bodies exist to serve us, the public, individually and collectively, and that we therefore have a responsibility for ensuring that they do precisely this.

    Since you published your concerns in Wembley Matters in May together with your letter to the Leader of the Council requesting a discussion, and since you then met with the leader of the council on a matter of public concern, and since your meeting was held in the presence of a council officer, I am at a loss to understand how Cattermole can characterise your meeting with Cllr Butt a personal one, rather as though you were being humoured in some way. A person to person meeting is not the same as a personal meeting

    What is it that Cllr Butt can have said in relation to what are clear-cut issues, that can possibly be open to misinterpretation? I assume you did have your hearing aid switched on and you had taken your pills in preparation for the meeting!

    I am afraid Cllr Butt has become adept at ducking out of responsibility for blatant wrong-doing in the council because he has been led into participating in that wrong-doing himself. There can be no favourable reflection on Cllr Butt or his officers in any discussion of these issues and therefore, even if you had prepared a verbatim account of your meeting, I believe you would still have been asked not to publish them.

    The matters published here in May,

    http://wembleymatters.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/eric-pickles-urged-to-investigate-brent.html

    drew much public indignation. A further reason why Cllr B might be feeling shy of having his words of wisdom shared with the rest of us is because he knows the improper practices are continuing to be perpetrated by the Davani Gilbert Ledden trio.

    Yet another council officer is taking Brent to employment tribunal for unfair dismissal and once again we the hard-pressed council tax payers will have to stump up for legal representation.

    The disappearance of a prominent member of the internal audit team also raises questions.

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    1. Thank you for your comments, Nan.

      Has Rosemarie's employment tribunal hearing delivered its decision yet? I am sure that many Wembley Matters readers would, like me, be interested to hear its findings please, including quotations on any particular points of interest, if it is a written decision document.

      One of the points which I raised with Cllr. Butt on 26 June was a misleading document (the "Community Facilities Assessment") prepared and submitted by Council Officers in support of the Barham Park Trust planning application last November. Brent's Planning Committee rightly rejected the application for a change of use of the former Barham Park Library building from Community Use to Business Use, but the Trust (in effect, Brent Council) appealed against that decision. A Planning Inspector will hold an informal hearing of that appeal on Tuesday (22 July, at 10am) at Brent Civic Centre. It will be interesting to see whether more of our money is wasted on hiring legal representation to present the Trust's fatally flawed case to that hearing.

      Philip.

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    2. Nan, when you say "disappearance of a prominent member of the audit team" could you expand? Hit squad? Alien abduction? Undercover agent forced to abandon operation? Frankly none of these would surprise me!

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    3. Keep up the good work Nan and Philip.

      The truth hurts, but eventually it comes out look at phone hacking, MP expenses etc etc

      The sad part is sheeple voted for more corruption, making it harder to stamp out.

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    4. In response to 15.41, all I can say is he was here one day and gone the next. Of course I did compare the behaviour of the current bunch of officers to the creature in 'Alien' in the May blogs, so I would say anything is possible.........

      If aliens landing in Brent had their wish to be taken to our Leader fulfilled, my sympathy would be firmly on the side of the aliens!!

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    5. In response to Philip at 15.19, Rosemarie's judgement is still awaited. Employment Tribunals too, have a variety of inefficiencies to which claimants are subjected!

      And the fact that claimants now have to pay for the privilege does not bear thinking about.

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    6. On 27 June, Cllr Butt posted the following tweet

      ".@Brent_Council @MPSBrent proud that Dave Verma head of audit and investigation being commended for his work",

      which is odd because Brent's Anti-fraud and Bribery Policy - link here

      http://www.brent.gov.uk/media/3409933/Anti fraud and bribery policy.pdf (page 22, Contact Details)

      lists Mr Verma sharing a different post - 'Internal Fraud/Schools/Voluntary Sector/Direct Payments/Grants'.

      It's Brent's Audit and Investigations department that's liaising with the police regarding the Kensal Rise Library fake-email business, so 'the disappearance of a prominent member of the internal audit team' is particularly worrying for everyone concerned to know what's happening with the police investigation - concerns have been expressed that it might be quietly dropped in the wake of last week's planning consent for change of use of the library building.

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  3. Philip, I really can’t see why you ‘ feel that I must respect the request ‘not to publish or circulate’ my notes further’. From what you write, it doesn’t appear that you agreed that this should be the case prior to the meeting and it seems to be only that you are used to dealing with people in a situation of mutual openness and integrity which is guiding your actions now. You seem to being informed by Mr Butt via Mr Cattermole that the matters of public concern which you raised are, in fact, none of your (or our) business. Your usual working context of mutual openness and integrity is therefore absent here and your reservations about publishing, though honourable, therefore seem misplaced.
    Mr Butt and Mr Cattermole are public figures carrying out public policy and they and their officers (or, increasingly their subcontracting ‘consultants) are spending public money on public matters directly affecting the lives of people in Brent. Asking you to keep quiet about their position on the matters you raised with them seems to show that their concern is principally for themselves and their coterie rather than for the people they are elected and/or paid to serve. I would assume that your interest is in the welfare of the people of Brent and I feel that you should not let Mr Butt and Mr Cattermole take advantage of your evident decency by blocking your pursuit of that interest.

    Mike Hine

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    1. Dear Mike,

      I did not mention the possibility that my notes of the meeting might be published at or before the meeting, and only raised the point when I sent them to Cllr. Butt. In those circumstances, I felt it proper to ask for the agreement of the person who had invited me to come and discuss 'the points that I had been highlighting' with him for his agreement that they should be made available for others to read, once agreed.

      I did not imagine that any reasonable person would not co-operate in arriving at an agreed note of our discussions, particularly as I had explained what I would do about a note of our meeting at the outset, and this had apparently been agreed. Thomas Cattermole also appeared to be making some notes on his "tablet" (although as he was sitting at the opposite side of the table from me I could not see what was on his screen), which I thought would help to ensure that he could suggest any amendments that might be needed to my own version.

      I thought that my request that they should be offered to "Wembley Matters" would be welcomed, as a way of Cllr. Butt making some of the answers he had given, on points where the Council had been criticised in blogs/comments, available to interested local people.

      I have been criticised myself in some comments in the past for being naive (and worse), but I believe that people should act in a reasonable way, and that is how I try to conduct myself in my dealings with others. Sometimes I am disappointed, but I have asked Cllr. Butt to think again. He has told me that he expects high standards of both Councillors and Council Officers, and I hope that as Council Leader, he will lead by example.

      Philip.

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  4. Censorship will not do. The notes of this meeting are subject to a Freedom of Information Act Request.
    A request has been made here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/notes_of_meeting_between_phillip/
    Once they are released out to the public record I shall look forward to a follow up guest blog by Phillip Grant.

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    1. Nice work! I wonder if Cllr Butt will end up agreeing with Tony Blair that passing the Freedom of Information Act was the worst thing the previous Labour government ever did?

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    2. We should have an open and transparent system. We would not even need to jump through hoops of Freedom of Information Act.

      It would save a huge amount of time and paperwork if decisions were open and accountable !

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  5. Typical Brent Council tactics really. They make decisions 'in cabinet' then they let us know the outcome. They make loads of mistakes because they don't think things through. Of course they don't want anybody to record meetings, in confidence or otherwise.

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  6. Mmm being called away so he wouldn't have to deal with the last item, how convenient.

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    1. Dear Anonymous at 18.51,

      I can understand you feeling suspicious at this, but I was there and I do think it was a genuine 'call away'. If Cllr. Butt had ended the meeting abruptly as soon as his secretary came in to tell him that he was needed straight away at the Citizenship Ceremony, I would have been suspicious myself, but we did carry on talking for about ten minutes after the first call, and the Council Leader only called a halt after the second reminder.

      Philip.

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    2. Seems like clever tactics to me to get you out.

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  7. Sorry for this (possibly flippant) diversion, but is it really healthy for us to accept and become used to elected reps in local government deciding to call themselves 'The Cabinet' and the top rep being referred to by his oppo (and presumably without his objection) as 'The Leader'. I think they both might do well to remember what happened to various past 'Leaders' (and I don't just mean Gary Glitter).

    Mike Hine

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