Guest blog by Philip Grant-->
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.
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.
The London Borough of Brent
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.