Saturday 2 August 2014

Brent Labour in need of good political advice as spin doctor and organiser leave

Brent Labour Group is looking for a new Political Assistant following Richard Bell's departure. Richard Bell was the latest Political Assistant with a background in the Fabian Society. His predecessor Jack Stenner had been a Young Fabian. The two have published articles together LINK

If anyone out there fancies their chances (and there is an ex-councillor with time on his hands with very definite views on Brent Labour and democracy), I reproduce the application pack below:

Coincidentally (perhaps), Lee Skevington, Labour's borough organiser, has according to highly placed Labour sources, decided not to extend his contract. Skevington has been popular with rank and file Labour Party members.

The departures leave quite a gap ahead of the General Election in nine months time. However influential Jim Moher remains firmly in the driving seat of Dawn Butler's Brent Central  campaign following Labour's AGM.

Brent Labour's need for good political advice became clear this week when the 'poor doors' issue hit national as well as local headlines. This segregation of private and affordable home tenants in the same block was justified by Margaret McLennan, lead member for housing and regeneration, on the basis that separate access was required to keep the service charges of affordable tenants down, but attacked by former Council leader Ann John as 'utterly ridiculous and dreadful'. Pete Firmin, also a Labour Party member and chair of Brent Trades Council, as well as a committee member of a local residents' association, said, 'It is outrageous and basically saying we are the privileged, keep out of our area.'

This controversy follows the revelation that a one bedroomed flat in the Willesden Green Library development, advertised in Singapore as 'benefitting' from having no social or key worker homes, was selling at £450,000.

I have sympathy with McLennan's point on service charges but surely this goes back to the planning stages of mixed developments and their marketing, when the private service charges could be set to subsidise affordable housing service charges.

It is worth noting that Muhammed Butt has refrained from commenting to the Kilburn Times and has not responded to Twitter requests for his reaction.

Former Ann John supporter, James Powney, has continued to raise issues about democracy in Brent on his blog and the need for proper scrutiny. In a recent posting he was critical of the budget process by the current leadership LINK:
I fear that Brent Council is just going to float along without proper planning, until suddenly the money simply isn't there and panic cuts have to be implemented.  When that happens, councillors cease to exercise any sense of priorities and simply try to balance this year's books, until they go through an even more difficult exercise next year.
Not exactly a vote of confidence in his Labour colleagues.

Today  LINK  Powney commends the nine Labour councillors who called the £40 'Garden tax' in for scrutiny at Wednesday's Scrutiny Committee but contrasts the current changes with 'the thoroughness of the last major change in Brent's recycling arrangements four years ago'. He was, of course, lead member for the environment four years ago.

Elsewhere, on Twitter, James Powney has been involved in an exchange about the police investigation into fraudulent emails supporting the Kensal Rise Library development. Brent Council itself instigated the investigation with Muhammed Butt initially insisting that the issue should be thoroughly investigated. Lately the Council has granted planning permission and the council does not appear to be pursuing the matter. Powney, who still has the twitter handle @CllrPowney was accused of wanting to drop the investigation.

The police investigation is not the only unfinished business carried forward from the last administration.

The previous Labour adminstration extended Christine Gilbert's contract as Interim Chief Executive until after the May elections. Fiona Ledden's report advocating this at the time cited a smooth transition to the Civic Centre, managing the local elections, and safeguarding of Brent's reputation, as well as prevailing market conditions for LA CEs as reasons for keeping Gilbert on.

Now, three months after the election, Gilbert is still in post, with no sign of any recruitment process. She is currently on holiday and Andy Donald is standing in as Acting Interim Chief Executive.

Ledden's report (with Cara Davani of HR fame as the other contact officer) adopted by the then Brent Executive stated:
Taking these factors into account and taking a strategic view in relation to the optimum time to commence the permanent recruitment process, it is proposed that recruitment for a permanent Chief Executive commences after the May 2014 elections and that the current interim arrangements continue until a permanent appointment has been made and the individual is in post. This approach is fully supported by the Executive.
Unfortunately this (deliberate?) lose wording seems open to an interpretation  that the appointment can be made any time after May 2014. May 2020 perhaps?

Lastly, no independent investigation has yet been set up into the modus operandi of Brent's HR department.

The call-in of the 'Garden Tax' proposal is a welcome sign that some Labour councillors are prepared to question Cabinet decisions. I would hope that Labour councillors, committed to equality in housing, transparency in recruitment procedures, and good labour relations with employees, will also take up some of these other issues.


Anonymous said...

"...private service charges could be set to subsidise affordable housing"

What, indefinitely?

The developers of the housing blocks on the Guinness Brewery site in Brent's part of Park Royal refused to share blocks, and instead built separate blocks.

There is evidence (Rowntree study?) that putting poorer people in richer areas disadvantages them anyway, since the local shops are more expensive.

Anonymous said...

Re James Powney and Brent council's money running out. Their promised pursuit of the Davies/Evans/Patel Copland scam costs 'through the civil courts' must be well advanced by now, surely. The large amount of money from that should help, shouldn't it? Maybe someone cpuld ask Mr Butt how much he's expecting to get from it and when it's likely to be available.

Meg Howarth said...

It certainly seems as if no-one at Brent Council is any longer taking seriously the investigation into the fraudulent email affair in which developer Andrew Gillick's original planning application for change-of-use of Kensal Rise Library remains shrouded. It's almost one year since the fake emails posted in support of the developer's application appeared on the council's planning portal and were passed to Brent's Audit and Investigation (A&I) Unit.

Pre-May's local election, council leader Muhammed Butt tweeted strongly about the reopening of the police inquiry, initially rejected by the National Fraud and Investigation Bureau. Post-election, despite repeated requests for an update on the progress of Brent police's active investigation, Cllr Butt remains silent.

Meantime, strange things appear to have happened at the A&I unit. Dave Verma - a joint office-holder for Internal Fraud/Schools/Voluntary Sector/Direct Payments/Grants - fraud and bribery policy.pdf

was recently commended by Brent police and Cllr Butt for his services as 'Head of Audit and Investigation' - a post he never appears to have held. Simon Lane remains listed as the officer with that responsibility, and it was he who was liaising with the police and receiving updates about the force's investigation. Has Simon Lane been removed from his post? If so, for what reason?

Meantime, perhaps Cllr Butt, a reader and previous commentator on the Wembley Matters blog, would update readers and residents about the police investigation into the sordid email affair - or does he no longer support same?