Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Do Brent Council websites and Twitter accounts have minds of their own?

Philip Grant, an occasional contributor to this blog, posted a comment on the Brent and Kilburn Times website about the above story. As, for some reason yet to be explained, it has not been published I print it below.

This is not the first time that Cllr. Butt has had difficulties because of ‘website blunders’ by Brent Council, which expose that he can say one thing publicly, but mean something else in practice.

When changes were made to Brent’s Constitution last June, he told the Brent & Kilburn Times what a good idea the new “Deputations” were (on page 2 of the 12 June 2014 edition):

'Cllr Butt said, "New proposals allow the public to speak in council meetings for the first time ever is aimed at bettering how the community engages with the council and allows residents to hold us to account." '

In advance of the next Full Council meeting on 8 September, Brent Council “tweeted” an invitation to more than 8,000 “followers” on 29 August, saying (see image):

'Speak out to the whole council. Ask for a five-min slot (a deputation) @ full council. For 8 Sept. email committee@brent.gov.uk by noon Mon.'

At least one person, Martin Francis (a Brent resident and an active member of its community), did respond to this invitation, and sent a request on Monday morning, 1 September, to speak on the subject of the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive. However, he was told by Brent’s Legal Director that his request had been made after the “five day” time limit, which she calculated meant by midday on Friday 29 August, and that the “tweeted” invitation had been issued in error.

I do not know what Mr Francis intended to say in his five minute Deputation, but as Christine Gilbert was appointed as interim Chief Executive in the autumn of 2012, initially for six months, there was a valid point of concern. Her interim appointment was only extended until the May 2014 local elections because, it was claimed, she had to oversee the Council’s move into the new Civic Centre in 2013, and act as Returning Officer for those elections. Surely it was time for a permanent Chief Executive to be appointed, under the Council’s proper recruitment procedures?

I was one of several people who expressed concern over what appeared to be an unreasonable attempt to stop Mr Francis from speaking to the Full Council under a process which was meant to help residents to “hold the council to account”. I wrote to the Mayor, who as “Chair” of Council meetings has powers over how they are handled, asking him to allow Mr Francis to speak, as he had requested to do so in line with the Council’s own published invitation. He replied that he had to leave the matter in the hands of the Legal Director. At the meeting itself he simply told the councillors that ‘there are no deputations’, even though Mr Francis was there, ready to speak, and there was up to twenty minutes set aside on the agenda for hearing deputations.

I had copied my emails to Cllr. Butt, the Council Leader, and on the day after the Full Council meeting, 9 September, I sent him an email setting out details of what had happened, and saying:

‘I am writing to ask you to explain why you, either individually or in concert with the Council's Director of Legal and Procurement, did not allow Martin Francis to present his Deputation on the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive to the Full Council meeting on 8 September.’

Despite several reminders, I have not received a reply. It seems that he, or Brent’s over-staffed Public Relations team, will reply when they can put a positive “spin” on a story, but when events show that they have acted wrongly, they will either keep quiet or seek to excuse what has happened as an ‘error’, as if websites or tweets have minds of their own.


Anonymous said...

The website and twitter accounts might have minds of their own but the leader certainly doesn't

Anonymous said...

So Butt's original pitch about 'Deputations' when it was launched was a lie.
The promise in the council's 'invitation' of 8th September was a lie.
Ledden's story about the 'error' was a lie.
The attempt at an explanation for Gilbert's perpetual interimness was a lie.
The mayor's 'justification' for his spinelessness re Ledden was an evasion at best.
His statement that there were no deputations at the meeting for which Martin had prepared one was a lie.

Perhaps they won't answer your questions, Philip, because to do so might involve telling the truth.
And, in any case, whatever they gave you as an answer would be far less informative about them, their practice, their procedures, their empty claims and their moral bankruptcy than what we learn (or have confirmed) about them from the account of your experience outlined in your post above.
Keep it up. It's working.

Mike Hine

Anonymous said...

It seems that the only way to get a reply from our great leader Mo Butt is on twitter or to become a Facebook friend. Have you tried that.

Anonymous said...

What is the difference between "saying something publicly, and meaning something in practice", and deliberately telling a pre-meditated lie"?

Answers to Cllr Mohammed Butt, Brent Council, via email, twitter or post!

Anonymous said...

Democracy in Brent doesn't appear to be faring well. As for Mo Butt preferring social media: the leader picks and chooses whether or not he responds to tweets. Using social media doesn't in itself guarantee accountability or transparency.

Anonymous said...

I think you lost the irony!

Meg Howarth said...

Indeed, social medie doesn't guarantee accountability. Cllr Butt - together with Brent's chief executive Christine Gilbert, head of law Fiona Ledden and uber-planning/development supremo, Andy Donald - has failed to respond to repeated requests by both email and Twitter for an update on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) investigation in the Kensal Rise Library online planning fraud - the 'fake emails'. Perhaps a post on Wembley Matters will achieve what a direct approach singularly fails to produce - a response. Brent's handling of this sordid affair does neither elected members nor top officials any favours.