Thursday, 4 September 2014

Ledden claims Brent Council tweeted in 'error' to 8,000 followers inviting them to speak at Monday's Full Council meeting - then bars Martin Francis from speaking

Regular reader will know about the issues around democracy and Brent Council (refresher course: LINK ) and these came to a ahead wsith the Labour landslide  with proposals to limit questions to the Cabinet and have just one 'super' Scrutiny Committee. At the same time Muhammed Butt tried to get a change in rules which would have meant the Labour leadership only being contested every four years.

A concession made to the public was that they would be allowed to address full Council.

On Friday August 29th Brent Council sent out this tweet: (Screen grab)

Clear enough you might think and having posted about the opportunity on this blog and on Facebook I sent in a request on Monday morning to have a deputation on the issue of the appointment of a Permanent Chief Executive.

The previous adminstration had accepted a report from Fional Ledden (Chief Legal Officer) to continue with Acting Chief Executive, Christine Gilbert's acting appointment until after the May 2014 local elections. According to Ledden this was in order to ensure a smooth transfer to the Civic Centre, continuity during the election and because market conditions were not right for recruitment.

The then Liberal Democrat opposition had opposed this and called for an open and transparent recruitment process. LINK

I was surprised to receive a belated response from Fiona Ledden refusing my request as it had not been received by the  'deadline of August 29th'.

I replied (attaching the screen grab of the Tweet):
Thank you for your letter informing me that I cannot have a deputation to Full Council because my email was sent on Monday September 1st and the deadline was Friday August 29th.
I sent my email in response to a Tweet from Brent Council which quite clearly stated that the deadline was Noon on Monday September 1st. The Tweet was sent out by the Council on August 29th.

I therefore repeat my request to speak to full Council on the issue of appointing a Permanent Chief Executive.
I received the following letter  from Fiona Ledden in response:
Thank you for your email in response to my letter. 
Please accept our apologies for the confusion. The Tweet you refer to was published in error and this is something I shall follow up. 

I refer you to Standing Order 39 in Part 3 of the Council’s Constitution “Any person wishing to make a deputation shall give written notice to the Director of Legal and Procurement of the title and summary of the content of the deputation not less than 5 days before the date of the meeting”. The deadline for deputations was 29 August 2014. 

As stated in my original response to your email, you will receive a written response to your question in due course.
Brent Council has about 8,000 followers, some of whom will have retweeted the notice, so that is some error!

I am used to Fiona Ledden's method when challenged, she basically seeks to grind you down and then eventually close down any correspondence.  There are several guest blogs on Wembley Matters that testify to this method.

Undaunted I replied again this morning:

Dear Ms Ledden,
I am afraid that i am not satisfied with your response.  An invitation that went out to almost 8,000 followers of Brent Council on Twitter, and was then further distributed by some of them, cannot simply be dismissed as an 'error'.

Furthermore even the 5 day's notice in Standing Orders does not say '5 working days'.  Even if we take that to be what is meant, a deadline of Noon on Monday would give 5-1/2 days between the deadline and the evening meeting on September 8th. That is Monday afternoon, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and the following Monday.

I therefore ask you to reconsider my request to speak as a delegation to the Full Council on September 8th on the issue of appointment of a permanent Chief Executive.
 You may not be surprised to learn that I have had no reply.  

If Muhammed Butt and his Cabinet were genuine in their commitment to give the public a voice in representation and decision making, it seems that their desires are being thwarted.

In the Standing Orders approved by the Council at their first meeting Fiona Ledden granted some fairly draconian powers over selecting delegations to speak at full Council meetings. No one from any party questioned these powers although they were commented on here:

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 shall have discretion to decide whether the deputation is for any other reason inappropriate and cannot proceed.
So if I complain the issue will get caught up in the complaints procedure and therefore cannot be raised by me or anyone else.  If I make a fuss then it could be labelled vexatious. And if I suggest that perhaps something is being hidden or avoided, or someone being protected, then that could be defamatory.

If all else fails then Ms Ledden can refuse the deputation on the the grounds that it is inappropriate for 'any other reason'.

Regular readers will remember that Ms Ledden wrote to  Wembley Matters 'requring' us to remove documentation about the Audit and Investigation team's report on allegations against Brent's Acting Head of Human Resources LINK We refused to comply on grounds of public interest.

Is there any councillor out there who will stand up and question this nonsense?


  1. RE: Is there any councillor out there who will stand up and question this nonsense?
    No they won't come forward, too busy smiling about their potential 25% pay rise, what did council workers get 1% SHAMEFUL GREEDY.

    Brent has no respect for freedom of speech. Residents need to wake up.

  2. The reality of tv program "Yes Prime Minister" is being played out in real life at Local level in Brent.

    The casts are Lady Christine Humphrey and side kick Bernadette F Ledden.

    Yes So

  3. I, too, have experienced Ms Ledden's method of 'clos[ing] down any correspondence'. On querying the apparent six-month delay in forwarding detailed information regarding the Kensal Rise Library email fraud to the police, I received the following response from Brent's legal big-wig:

    'We have provided, and will continue to provide, the police with all the information that they require to help them with their enquiries. I do not intend to enter into further correspondence on this particular issue as the Council’s position is absolutely clear' - Fiona Ledden, Director of Legal and Procurement.

    The 'draconian powers' granted the council under the latest Standing Orders would, however, not have been Ms Ledden's doing alone, even if they were her ideas. They would have been discussed and agreed with chief executive Christine Gilbert - irony is clearly not dead in Brent; the second commentator, above, is bang on the button regarding this - and at least some members of the cabinet, previously known as the executive, I believe. Elected members must not be let off the hook. We've seen in the case of the appalling Rotherham Abuse scandal how some national - Labour Party - politicians were quick to point the finger at senior officers - culpable, it's true, of shocking dereliction of duty. But it's politicians who set the framework and the tone of what happens in government, local and national. The buck must stop with them. As Martin's blog says, not a single councillor challenged the current North Korean-style Standing Orders, nor the power they confer on Fiona Ledden. They are thereby all guilty of, at best, being asleep on the job, or colluding in these anti-democratic measures. This should be a pre-election wake-up call.

    Council leader Butt should now step in and over-ride - as is within his power - Ms Ledden's attempt to shut down the question of Christine Gilbert's ongoing 'employment' - is Ms Gilbert still off-payroll, or is she now a Brent employee, by the by? If he doesn't, the responsibility will be his for failing to allow Martin Francis important question to be raised and answered in public. A written answer, as he well knows, is less accountable and transparent, and would allow him and other politicians to hide behind an officer. It's this passing of the buck by elected members across local government everywhere that is sounding the death-knell of the present local-authority set-up. We permit it at the cost of further undermining the perilous state of UK democracy. Democracy is always a work in progress. If citizens don't actively look after it, it will continue to wither, and we'll have only ourselves to blame.

    1. Does anyone actually think any decision made at the top level isn't approved by Butt? The Chief is still there with his approval, let's not be fooled. You;ll find that all this talk about transparency is just a talk nothing else.

    2. Agree. Of course the CE is in post with his approval. In asking Mo Butt to override Ms Ledden's decision, I hope I didn't give the impression that he wasn't party to the new Standing Orders (I'll be clearer next time, thanks) or other significant policy changes.

  4. Fiona Ledden's arguments as to why Martin should not be allowed to address the full Council meeting on the subject he has put forward are untenable. I hope that she will see sense, and allow him to address the meeting on Monday evening.

    Philip Grant.

  5. I received the following further email from Fiona Ledden on Friday:
    I note your comments in relation to the tweet, I will ensure in future that the tweet alerts go out at least 2 weeks before a relevant council meeting I am sorry that did not occur on this occasion.

    In relation to the calculation of working days within the definition section of the constitution it confirms that days mean full clear working days which would mean that the deputations need to be received on the Friday before Council on the following Monday.

    I confirm again the leader will write answering the question that you have raised

    1. Thank you for updating readers on this further email, Martin.

      I think that Ms Ledden may be missing the main point here - the reason for introducing deputations who could speak to Full Council on matters of concern relating to the borough and Council functions was to improve interaction between the Council and its citizens!

      Up to three deputations per meeting, of up to five minutes per speaker, are allowed. Ms Ledden has not indicated that there are already at least three requests for deputations which were received within the time limit which she is seeking to enforce strictly, so that there may well be at least one "spare" five minute slot available for a deputation at Monday evening's Full Council meeting.

      As Martin's request was made within the time limit as published by Brent itself in its "Tweet" of 29 August, even if that was sent out in error and the time limit was actually the close of business on Friday 29 August, it would be totally unreasonable to prevent him from making his "deputation" to the Full Council meeting on Monday 8 September if there is an otherwise unused deputation slot.

      I have already written to the Mayor of Brent, who will chair the meeting, with copies to the Council Leader and Ms Ledden, asking that Martin Francis be allowed to speak on the issue of the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive, and I will send this comment to them as well. In the interests of local democracy, I hope that good sense will prevail.

      Philip Grant.

    2. An update on my email(s) to the Mayor, Council Leader and Ms Ledden:-

      I have received an email from the Mayor this afternoon, to tell me that Ms Ledden has indicated that Cllr Butt will be replying to me on whether Martin will be allowed to speak at this evening's Full Council meeting. I have yet to receive the reply from Cllr Butt!

      Philip Grant.

    3. Further update:-

      At 6pm this evening I was sent an email by Peter Goss, Democratic Services Manager in Brent's Legal and Procurement Department (and the officer responsible for organising the Full Council meeting).

      He refers to the response to my email to the Mayor, Council Leader and Ms Ledden, which was sent to me by the Director of Legal and Procurement (Ms Ledden), and to the reply sent to me by the Mayor, and says:
      'I am not able to add anything to what has already been said.'

      The trouble is that I have not received a response from either Ms Ledden or Cllr Butt - another example of the art of "dealing with" an issue without actually dealing with it!

      Philip Grant.

  6. A written response to Martin's question isn't good enough (also comment 3). A genuine public-interest question, it needs airing and discussing publicly at full council. Instead of asking Fiona Ledden to draft a response on his behalf, Cllr Butt should grasp the democratic nettle and answer in public. Democratic practice can sting, that is the essence of its transparent and accountable nature. We undermine it at our social peril.

  7. Oh, the arrogance of Labour politicians! Below just spotted on Twitter from former MP Tony McNulty - background here for those unfamiliar with Christine Gilbert's partner -

    @Tony_McNulty 'Greens will have no MPs at next election. Our job is positive Labour message'.

    McNulty was responding to a piece in today's Financial Times written by its chief political correspondent, Jim Pickard, under the headline 'Greens outflank Labour from the left'. Pickard responded neatly:

    'You would be the first to say the Tories should be worried about Ukip.... @Tony_McNulty' after which the ex-MP seems to have lost his party-political voice.

  8. Let's get real, here. Does anyone really believe that the Brent Council tweet was posted 'in error'? The press department - which posts the tweets - wouldn't have got hold of it by mistake. It would have been sent them for publication. Muhammed Butt must really step up and over-ride the unelected Fiona Ledden diktat. There's a while to go before next May's general election, and social media are becoming ever stronger.

    1. Correction to above - I meant to say that the details in the tweet would have been passed to the press dept for it to tweet, not that that the tweet itself was pre-drafted by others before it was posted.

  9. Whether or not Fiona Ledden is playing Cardinal Wolsey to Mo Butt's Henry 8 and making decisions behind his back, censoring Martin Francis is a dumb move that can only backfire. Her stance only raises more questions: what are the politicians afraid of? What's the threat that Martin's question poses - it's seems it's the follow-up questions/public debate that asking the question in open forum of full council the powers-that-be are afraid of. A reminder to the 'cabinet': it's Brent residents who pay Ms Gilbert's salary - whether off-payroll or on.

    The council's political boss still has time to fix the mess by overturning Ledden's ludicrous decree - other cabinet members have time to persuade him. Here's why they should - off-topic but the lessons are clear for all party politicians whether at local or national level

  10. 'Is there any councillor out there who will stand up and question this nonsense?'

    Alas, the answer to Martin's question in the above blog appears to be a deafening 'No'. Not even the newby cllr who announced his support for 'democracy whenever practicable' apparently has the guts to speak out. It's certainly 'practicable' to permit this important question to be asked/answered/discussed in public. Ah - I recall the cllr concerned - name long forgotten - removed his qualified support for democracy from his Twitter bio once it had been commented on in a previous Wembley Matters' blog.

    In the run-up to the general elections, it seems Brent Labour is taking its residents for granted. Doubtless, a member will appear on this thread and tell us that what matters to local people is council tax, capping energy bills... - choose from the latest central-office list - not democracy. How insulting! As if residents are interested only in short-termism?

    Party-politicians ignore the message of he 'Angry Voice' link at their peril - comment 7 Sep, 21.21 above. Lib/Lab/Cons simply don't get it - Scotland is about more than economics - which is why Alistair Darling was floundering yet again on BBC Radio 4 Today this morning. That's why many in England resoundingly support a 'Yes' vote. A new politics, and better future is possible.

  11. I've just been watching the live streaming of this evening's Brent Council meeting to see what happened over Martin's "deputation".

    Cllr. Butt got in first during his report to the Council as Leader, talking about the proposed Borough Plan (2015-2019) which Brent is about to start consulting on, ready to put to Council in March 2015. He mentioned a 'question which had been raised by a member of the public' about the role of the Chief Executive, and said that Christine Gilbert would be starting work on the Borough Plan. He seemed to suggest that everything to do with Brent Council was running smoothly, with Ms Gilbert at the helm, but then indicated that the Council would be seeking to appoint a permanent Chief Executive in the New Year. What exactly the Council's plans or timetable are over replacing the current (since autumn 2012) Interim Chief Executive was left unclear.

    When item 6 on the agenda came up, the Mayor simply said that there were no Deputations, and went to move on to item 7. Cllr. John Warren, leader of the Brondesbury Park Conservatives, raised the question of what had happened about the "deputation" by Martin Francis on the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive, which had been submitted the previous Monday morning, in response to, and within the time limit set out by a notice ("Tweet") issued by the Council. Fiona Ledden, Director of Legal and Procurement, said that the notice had been issued in error, and that the point raised by Mr Francis had been dealt with by correspondence. The meeting then moved on to the next item.

    Brent Council, at its meeting in June 2014, changed its Constitution so that Deputations could be made in person to meetings of the Full Council, in order to improve interaction between the Council and its citizens. The way in which Martin's request for a Deputation has been dealt with here seems to be a clear indication that Brent Council's Leader and Senior Officers have no wish that any meaningful interaction should be allowed to take place in practice!

    Philip Grant.

  12. Like Philip Grant, I too wrote to Muhammed Butt, ccing deputy leader Mike Pavey, about Martin's live question on the appointment of a permanent chief exec. Like him, I've received no reply.

    I'm growing increasingly to dislike Fiona Ledden's tone. Of course the blocking of Martin Francis question about Christine Gilbert's appointment hasn't been 'dealt with in correspondence'. Who does Ms Ledden think she is is being economical with the truth? As for Cllr Butt, he's done himself, nor the cause of democracy in Brent, any favours by refusing to stand up for transparency. He has only himself to blame if this matter backfires - as indeed do the rest of the 'cabinet'. In denying Martin the right to ask a public-interest question publicly, choosing instead to shelter behind Ms Ledden, Brent's leader has shown that democratic debate doesn't feature on his agenda.