Tuesday 23 December 2014

Information not so free at Brent Council when it comes to respecting the Constitution

Philip Grant has written to Fiona Ledden, Director of Legal and Procurement at Brent Council, regarding her refusal of a resident's  Freedom of Information request  about the meeting Grant had with Muhammed Butt on 'Respecting Brent's Constitution'.

Philip Grant wrote:
Dear Ms Ledden,

I have just come across the attached document, a letter from you on behalf of Brent Council on 18 September 2014 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by a Mr Benazi, on the "What do they know" website.

The request concerns a copy of the notes of a meeting, which I prepared after I had met with Cllr. Muhammed Butt at the Civic Centre on 26 June 2014, notes which I wished to put in the public domain, but which I did not feel able to do for reasons explained in a "guest blog" which was posted on the "Wembley Matters" site in July 2014 LINK

I am writing to point out that the explanation you gave for not providing a copy of the notes to Mr Benazi was incorrect, for the following reasons:

The "information" (the notes) was held by Brent Council, in that Thomas Cattermole (Head of Executive and Member Services), who had been present at and taken part in the meeting, held a copy of them.

My meeting was not with Councillor Butt 'as a Councillor', but with him as Leader of Brent Council, to discuss matters involving the Council, its workings and the actions of Council Officers, and not any personal matter as a "constituent" (which I would have raised with one of my ward Councillors for Fryent Ward, if that had been the case).

The meeting took place at Councillor Butt's invitation, and not at my request.It was to discuss matters which I had raised in a letter to him (jointly with Cllrs Kansagra and Lorber) following a "Soapbox" I gave at a Brent Connects meeting in February 2014 on "Respecting Brent's Constitution", and which he had not yet dealt with. [You may remember that I sent you a copy of the letter, and of the text of my "Soapbox" on 13 February 2014, with an email headed 'Working together on Respecting Brent's Constitution', after you had confused that letter with another matter (a complaint I had made to Christine Gilbert about the actions of three senior Council Officers) in dealing with a request made to you by the then Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group.]

For these reasons, I can see no justification for dismissing Mr Benazi's request, as the information would have been within that which should be supplied by Brent Council under the Freedom of Information Act. I hope that the Council will now, belatedly, comply with that FoI request. Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing this to my attention.
Due to the unreasonable delay that was out of accordance with the terms & conditions of the FOI Act, I was not checking the site as often as I should have done. This has been rectified and I have requested an internal review.

My request can be seen here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/notes_of_meeting_between_phillip#outgoing-409581



Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Benazi,

Noted, thank you. I hope that an Internal Review will not prove necessary, as Brent Council are now aware of their error, and should comply with your original request.

I have forwarded a copy of my Fiona Ledden email to Cllr. Butt and to Thomas Cattermole at Brent, asking them to assist the Council in complying with its FoI responsibilities by making their copy of my note of the meeting available so that it can be disclosed to you, and others. In order to encourage them to meet their statutory duty, I have said that I will release the document myself if they have not done so under FoI within the next two weeks.

Please don't expect anything too "earth shattering" in the notes, although they do contain some information and comments which I believe should be publicly available. One way or another, you will get the chance to read them early in the New Year. Best wishes,

Philip Grant.

Anonymous said...

Well done, Philip. Thorough and effective as ever. I'm not sure they ever deserved your integrity in the first place, though.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anonymous 24 Dec. at 15:55.

This may seem self-righteous and naive, but I don't see it as a matter of anyone "deserving" integrity. Integrity, like leadership / setting a good example, is something I believe to be central to a just society. That is why I am giving Brent Council another chance to "do the right thing". I would much rather that they realise and accept their responsibilities, and supply the notes under the FoI request, as this would be a small step back in the right direction.

I suspect that I may be disappointed in this hope, and will have to release the note myself, on the grounds that Brent should already have done so. But wouldn't it be such a great start to a difficult 2015 if Councillor Butt and Brent's senior officers could show people in the borough that things might change for the better!

Philip Grant.

Anonymous said...

Another FOI request burning up council tax payers money.

Maybe next time keep your own minutes of a meeting.

Anonymous said...

"Anon. 28 Dec. at 21:48" has obviously not understood the situation. I suggest that s/he reads my guest blog "A secret meeting with Cllr. Butt", via the LINK in the main article above.

The typed notes were ones which I prepared from notes I had made at the meeting itself (Brent Council officer, Thomas Cattermole, was also taking some notes at the meeting), and which I submitted with a request that they be checked and amended if necessary, so that they could be made public as an agreed document. It was Cllr. Butt (through Thomas Cattermole) who did not agree to their publication, even though they contain comments that he told me he wanted to make public. If he had agreed my original request, no formal FoI request would have been necessary.

When Muhammed Butt was elected Leader of Brent Council in May 2012, he told the Brent & Kilburn Times that his 'Labour-run council will be more open and transparent.' If he had lived up to those words, there would not be the need for so many FoI requests.

Philip Grant