Thursday 30 April 2015

Cara Davani and Christine Gilbert – Brent’s cover-up continues (or, another Deputation that the Council would not hear!)

Guest blog by Philip Grant
“Wembley Matters” readers may be interested to know what happened at Brent’s Scrutiny Committee meeting this evening (Thursday 30 April). 

Before it started, I was treated to the sight of Cllr. Butt sitting next to Cara Davani (Director of HR and Administration), laughing and joking with her, and pointing me out as the person who had come to present a Deputation about Equalities and HR. I don’t know why the Council Leader was there, except perhaps to impress on the committee members sitting opposite him that Ms Davani was under his protection, so they had better not do anything that might annoy her.

The Chair, Cllr. Aslam Choudry, soon got on to the question of the Deputation from Phil Grant, and said that there was a matter to sort out before I presented it. He asked for my agreement that if I were allowed to speak, I should not refer to any individual legal cases, as Brent’s Chief Legal Officer had advised me earlier in the day. 

I replied that I could not accept this restriction, for the reasons I had set out in an email sent to all of his committee members, and copied to the Legal Officer, some hours ago, which had not been answered. The legal case I wished to refer to was the one which Cllr Pavey’s review had been set up, as Christine Gilbert (interim Chief Executive, and also present) had announced last September, to learn the lessons from that case. As one of the points I wished to make was that an important lesson had not been learned, and both of the points required reference to the case in order to explain the reasons for what I wanted to say about the draft Action Plan, which Scrutiny Committee was being asked to give its views on, that case was relevant to committee’s consideration, and could not be ignored.

There was some further discussion with the senior Brent Lawyer, Arnold Meagher, at the meeting, who said that as the case involved had not been fully concluded, I should not be allowed to refer to it. I responded, saying that I would only be referring to “findings of fact” from the judgment in the case, and that judgment was final as it was no longer under appeal. I could not see how any reference to that part of the case would prejudice the position of any party to the remaining “remedy” hearing, at which the compensation award would be decided. I don’t think that this point was ever answered by Mr Meagher.

Cllr. Choudry said that he would discuss with his committee whether they should allow me to speak, as I would not accept the condition he had set out. There was a rather disjointed “discussion”, with several members of the committee speaking, but I could not follow what they were saying because they forgot to turn their microphones on. It seemed to be about the Legal Officer saying that I could not refer to the legal case I wanted to, but whether they viewed this as legal advice, or a legal instruction to the committee, was unclear. It appeared that the Chair was about to ask the committee to vote on the matter (which under Brent’s Standing Order 69(a)(i) he should have done, with only a simple majority being required to allow a Deputation to be received), but after further mumbled discussions Cllr. Choudry announced that I would not be allowed to present my Deputation, and moved on to the next item on the agenda.

Before leaving the meeting, I handed out the dozen printed copies of my Deputation I had taken with me to members of the public, co-opted members of the committee and other councillors present who wanted them, and I am setting out the text of what I would have said below, for anyone who wishes to read it.

Deputation to Scrutiny Committee on 30 April, in respect of item 9:
Cllr. Pavey’s Equalities and HR Policies and Practices Review and draft Action Plan.

I am speaking as an individual, but am aware that many local people, including Council employees and some Brent councillors, share the concerns I am raising.

In September 2014 an Employment Tribunal gave a judgment against Brent Council and its Director of HR, Cara Davani, finding that a former employee had suffered racial discrimination, victimisation and had been constructively dismissed.

Cllr. Pavey’s review of Equalities and HR policies and practices was set up ‘to ensure that we learn lessons from this case’. In the foreword to his review he says:

Policies are mostly sound. But policies are implemented by people and we need to do more to ensure that they are consistently applied.’

What Cllr. Pavey could not say, because his review’s terms of reference did not allow him to actually consider the Rosemarie Clarke case, was that an important lesson which should be learned is that even the best HR policies and practices are of little use if they are ignored by the officers who are supposed to follow them.

As an example, in guidance issued by Brent’s HR Director you can find statements like: ‘bullying and harassment will not be tolerated’. Rosemarie Clarke had raised a grievance against Cara Davani, because she felt she was being bullied and harassed by her. This led to a succession of acts of victimisation against her, recorded as findings of fact by the Tribunal, such as in para. 302 of the judgment:

‘'The tribunal is satisfied that the action of Ms Davani in seeking the claimant's suspension when she did, was a direct consequence of the claimant having raised a grievance against her. The tribunal finds that the claimant was thereby victimised.'

There were other findings of fact by the Tribunal about total failures to follow HR policies, which provided evidence of Brent’s constructive dismissal of Ms Clarke. Para. 176 of the judgment says:

'The tribunal finds that, from the correspondence from Ms Gilbert on 21 February, addressing the claimant's grievance of 18 February, so as to conclude and dispense with the grievance, this was not in accordance with the first respondent's [Brent’s] procedure and a breach of contract.'

If the Senior Officers responsible for such findings ignore Brent’s HR policies, what example is that setting to the Council’s other staff? The Action Plan is totally undermined, because why should managers bother to put the policies into practice, when those at the top ignore them and get away with it? Even if disciplinary action was taken against more junior staff for policy breaches, they could argue at any hearing that it would be unfair to penalise them, when no action was taken against Brent’s Director of HR for far worse misconduct.

Scrutiny Committee may wish to ask Ms Davani why she did not do the honourable thing, and resign, following the findings of fact in the Rosemarie Clarke case. It may also wish to ask Ms Gilbert why she did not institute disciplinary proceedings against Ms Davani when she failed to resign. If, having heard anything those Officers wish to say, committee members agree that the Equalities and HR Action Plan cannot move forward with Cara Davani still at Brent Council, I hope they will not be afraid to say so.

The second point I would ask Scrutiny Committee to consider is at Section 2 of the draft Action Plan [see page 5 of Appendix 2].  This has been prepared by Cara Davani, and is entitled ‘Achieving Excellence in Employment Policies’. 

I am deeply concerned at one of the “success criteria” which she proposes. This reads: 

‘Number of employment tribunals is low against benchmarked councils (benchmarks TBA) and ET cases are successfully defended.’

It is the second part of this that I find most worrying. “Success”, according to Ms Davani, should be measured by successfully defending Employment Tribunal cases. The risk of setting such a “target” is that it might encourage Council staff involved in these cases to fabricate or falsify the evidence that they give. 

As an example, in the Rosemarie Clarke case, a key factor in the finding of ‘racial discrimination’ against Brent Council was the decision to continue disciplinary proceedings against her after she had ceased to be a Council employee. In Para. 240 of the judgment it says:

‘With regards to the decision being taken to pursue disciplinary action against the claimant [Ms Clarke], following the termination of her employment, the respondents [Brent Council and Cara Davani] have been unable to state by whom or when that decision was made.’

As there would have been very few Council employees who could have made that decision, and at least some of those were witnesses at the Tribunal, this totally undermined the credibility of the Council’s evidence.

Scrutiny Committee may wish to ask Ms Davani and Ms Gilbert to tell them who did make that decision, and why. The stain of the ‘racial discrimination’ verdict against Brent Council cannot be removed, nor the Action Plan succeed, until a full and honest answer is given.

“Success” over Employment Tribunals is having none, and to achieve this I would recommend that the “criteria” should be: 

100% of managers honour in practice the core value set out in Cllr. Pavey’s review:
‘Every Brent Council employee deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.’ 

Thank you.

Philip Grant
30 April 2015.

Note from Martin Francis: Readers may be interested in seeing the Scrutiny Committee in action discussing whether Philip Grant should be heard. Unfortunately most councillors did not switch on their microphones so the public could not hear what was being said. Muhammed Butt is sitting with Cara Davani in the right hand corner of the horse shoe.


Wednesday 29 April 2015

Willesden Green library: First Users' Group May 12th

'Cease and Desist' UKIP threat against Wembley Matters

The UKIP Election Agent for Brent Central, Heino Vockrodt, with jabbing finger, came up to me last night at the Mapesbury Hustings, to threaten action against Wembley Matters.

Vockrodt, glass of wine in hand, said that he would serve a 'cease and desist' order on Wembley Matters if I continued to 'misrepresent' UKIP candidate Stephen Priestley.

Disliking his aggression I told him to go away (in rather more colourful language, I confess) and he turned his attention to a local non-party activist standing nearby, telling her with more threatening body language, "And you! Don't heckle my man!"

Vockrodt stood in Dudden Hill in the May 2014 local elections and hit the headlines over his attitude to Muslims and his suggestion that a Willesden street resembled Helmand Province. LINK

UKIP celebrated its attack on Wembley Matters with a posting on its Brent and Camden Facebook page:

Heino Vockrodt's attack follows a comment submitted to Wembley Matters which I did not publish. It was posted under the name 'TheHV24'.   This is part of what it said:
Martin Francis - the guy who runs Wembley Matters - is a far left extremist activist!
He is Shahrar Ali's electoral agent and supports Mr Ali's fascist "we know better what's good for you so shut up" policies.

This blog is against Electoral Commission rules and I will have it shut down!

Martin Francis & Shahrar Ali are deeply anti-democratic. They're cultural Marxists which can be easily spotted the moment there are a few Black people in the audience: Ali says things like "Black people being brutally arrested by white policemen on Willesden High Road" and other racist remarks.
'TheHV24' also posted my home address on YouTube which I removed.

UKIP's mask of respectability appears to have slipped.

Wembley Matters will continue to cover the election campaign including the statements of UKIP and other candidates.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Greens oppose Harrow School's plans for Metropolitan Open Space development

A petition has been started to save designated Metropolitan Open Space and  a Nature Conservation Area at Harrow Hill Golf Course from plans by Harrow School to turn it into a coach park and astroturf pitches.

The petition can be found HERE

This is the message to Harrow's Dorector of Planning attached to the petition:

Harrow Hill Golf Course is designated Metropolitan Open Space, an area of Special Character and a Nature Conservation area.  There is a proposal by Harrow School to turn it into a coach park and astroturf pitches.

The golf course and cafe serve a wide range of disadvantaged groups and individuals within the local community, has unrestricted and affordable access for these groups and for beginners and children, unlike other courses in the area.

It has a unique and unprecedented range of biodiversity and wildlife and is amongst the few environmentally friendly golf courses in the UK, thanks to its natural horticultural methods. Its biodiversity ranges from bumblebees, butterflies, bats, hedgehogs, and a huge variety of birdlife including owls, woodpeckers, sparrow hawks and migrating birds.

We urge you not to allow this valuable asset to our community, a beautiful oasis of open space for all to enjoy, to become covered in coach parking and all-weather sports pitches.

Emma Wallace, Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East said today:
Harrow Green party is dismayed by Harrow Schools proposal to build a coach park and astro turf on this wonderful recereational green space, which provides much needed calm away from a very busy road.  

We call on Harrow council to oppose this development and stand up for the unique and diverse open spaces in Harrow, which are increasingly being encroached upon.  The parks, fields and green belt in Harrow have all too easily been seen as places for school expansions, luxury flats and car parks by the council.  

These developments cut people off from accessing public land and completely ignore the fact that they contain a unique and unprecedented range of wildlife and biodoversity, a space for people to exercise and meet, helping communities improve health and well being.  

Harrow Labour council must start protecting Harrow's green spaces for everyone


Monday 27 April 2015

Rebecca Johnson is the Green Party's featured candidate today

Rebecca Johnson is today' s featured candidate on the Green Party national website LINK
 I reproduce the post here: 

In the run up to the General Election we will be giving you the opportunity to get to know some of our candidates. Our key candidates and spokespeople can be found here.

This year we will be standing in over 90% of seats in England and Wales.

Our featured candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn: Rebecca Johnson 

Rebecca Johnson at Saturday's Save NHS Petition presentation

Why are you standing as a candidate?

I'm a feminist peace activist committed to participatory democracy. After joining the Greens I supported getting Caroline Lucas into Westminster and canvassed on behalf of other smart, committed Greens standing for local councils and the European Parliament. So when I was asked to put my name forward this time, how could I say no?

What are your top 3 priorities if elected?

1) Transforming British democracy. It makes me so sad to hear voters in Hampstead and Kilburn say after a hustings that they think I'd make the best MP, they love how I argue for the Green Party's joined-up policies across all issues, but they feel they have to vote for another candidate as it's a marginal seat and they don't want a Tory MP. British politics alienates more people than it engages, especially young people, because under the stale 'first-past-the-post' system, most of us feel that our votes don't count. So we need genuine proportional representation – constituency-based single transferable votes for the House of Commons. We should lower the voting age to 16, and of course replace the unelected House of Lords with a proportionally-elected and much more effective Second Chamber.
2) Tackling homelessness and poverty here, notably in parts of Kilburn. That means ending the scandal of empty houses, reforming Council tax banding and investing in genuinely affordable social housing, and bringing in legislation so that the private rental sector is better controlled to provide fair rents, better accommodation and more secure tenancies.
3) Scrapping Trident and putting the billions we would save into our real security needs, such as a truly world class NHS, lifelong education opportunities, and protecting our planet from the biggest security threat of all, humanity's pollution and climate change.

What made you want to get into politics?

I've been engaged in British and UN politics as a feminist peace activist for many years, promoting equality, social justice, disarmament and environmental responsibility. I lived for five years at the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp to get rid of one generation of nuclear weapons, and then for Greenpeace to ban nuclear testing. Successful in both, but we still have to scrap Trident and build security without nuclear weapons. I decided to join the Green Party in 2009, when I could no longer fool myself that Labour would transform itself into an effective socialist party with the courage to tackle climate change, nuclear disarmament, poverty and homelessness.

What are your favourite things about the constituency?

I love the community spirit here, from parishioners in South Kilburn and Queens Park determined to stop HS2 from destroying their homes and schools, to Belsize Park residents and shopkeepers campaigning to defend their local jobs and shops against Tesco and its identikit, low-pay, profit-first model. And I love cycling to Hampstead Heath and swimming in the women's pond... an oasis of bliss while busy london fades into the background!

Who is your political hero?

Sylvia Pankhurst – the socialist suffragette committed to practical activism on behalf of London's poor, especially hardworking women from British and immigrant communities in the East End. She was feminist, courageous in her commitment to peace, and worked closely with Keir Hardie, Labour's first MP, in breaking the Tory-Liberal two-party stranglehold. From Greenham onwards, I've worn the green, purple and white ribbons of the suffragettes. We must honour their struggle for the vote by refusing to throw our precious democracy away in "tactical" voting for the "least worst" of today's inadequate TweedleCon and TweedleLab parties and their short term political machines. Our votes can bring in the transformational policies this country and our planet need.

Wednesday's strike at St Andrew & St Francis called off to promote negotiations but Thursday's strike still on, followed by public meeting

Teaching unions had planned two days of strikes this week against forced academisation  at Andrew and St Francis Primary School in Willesden on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Today they announced that they would call off Wednesday's strike in 'an act to show good faith' in order to enable them to promote negotiations with the Interim Executive Board (the body that replaced the governors). The Unions said 'We are really hoping that this extra time will enable proper talks to take place to end this dispute.'

Thursday's strike is scheduled to go ahead and will be followed in the evening by a Public Meeting to discuss the issue. 7pm St Andrews Church, 145 High Road,  London NW10 28J

Brent Equalities and HR Action Plan under Scrutiny on Thursday

An important meeting takes place on Thursday which I hope will not be over-shadowed by the General Election campaign.

At 7pm the Scrutiny Committee, meeting at the Civic Centre, will be considering the Action Plan LINK that has been formulated as a result of the Pavey Review in Equalities and HR Policies and Practice LINK .

The Pavey Review was commissioned following the Employment Tribunal case which found Brent Council and Cara Davani (Head of HR) guily of racial discrimination, victimisation and constructive dismissal.  Interim CEO Christine Gilbert was also named in the Judgment. However the Pavey Review did not set out to look at this particular case.

Brent Council rather than take any action over the personnel involved decided to go to appeal but a Judge ruled that such an appeal had 'no prospect of success'. LINK

The Report going before the Scrutiny Committee is in the name of Christine Gilbert and Cara Davani LINK 

The public and press can attend the meeting.

Preston Community Library is Alive and Kicking - get down there and join in

From Preston Community Library Campaign

Preston Community Library is now open. There is a selection of newspapers, and books available to borrow. The creative writing and Scrabble groups continue to meet on Monday afternoons, and there are now English classes on Fridays as well as Mondays.

This Wednesday, 29 April, Samantha Warrington will be holding her first yoga class, and she's hoping to add weekend classes for parents and children in the very near future. Wednesday's class will be from 7.30 to 8.30; participants need to arrive by 7.15 to register. If you'd like to join either of these classes, please ring Samantha on  07801 697712.

We're planning to add healthy eating classes, knitting classes, a homework club and a community cinema very soon. If you're interested in any of these, let me know.

At the moment we are open to the public from 12.30 - 7 on Mondays and from 11-5 on Saturdays. We want to extend these hours very soon. To do so, we need more volunteers to staff the library, and we're holding a meeting for potential volunteers in the library building this Wednesday, 29 April, at 2pm. If you have some spare time and would like to contribute to the success of a really important project, please come and see us between 2 and 4 on Wednesday.

Finally, this evening sees our next pub quiz at 7.30 in The Preston. Fortunately enough, I've just finished writing it. We aim to start the quiz promptly at 8. We hope to see lots of you there.

Mansfield recommends abolition/suspension of Shaping A Healthier Future in a damning critique

The Mansfield Commission's Interim Report into the Shaping A Healthier Future consultation states of the programme that would rsult in the closure of four of the nine acute hospital sites in the North West London area and the loss of Central Middlesex A&E:  
The SaHF programme in our view was a preconceived solution that was imposed on the North West London health system without there being any clear problem that it was designed to solve. 

In particular there was no proper assessment of the needs of the whole area to which the health and social care system would respond.
 The following recommendations are made:

1.     We recommend that the SaHF programme is abolished / suspended, thereby saving a considerable sum at one fell swoop. 

2.     We recommend that an independent review of the North West London health system is undertaken under the auspices of a joint health and local authority initiative that builds its case on a thorough assessment of the needs for health and social care of local populations, at local levels. 

3.     There must be no presumption that so-called ‘reconfiguration’ of acute services is the solution to what may not be a problem at all. 

4.     In addition there must be no presumption that the solution will involve a top-down approach across the whole area as SaHF assumed; there should be an openness to consideration of local solutions possibly at the borough level where these can be shown to work. 

5.     The NHS and local authorities must agree to work together to achieve a joint aim to provide good accessible health and social care to all local populations within a sustainable financial model. 

6.     We recommend that the attempt to close Ealing and Charing Cross hospitals is immediately stopped; that a guarantee is given to sustain acute health services on these sites – with no more double talk from NHS leaders – until the above review is complete and any associated business cases are taken through to Full Business Case level, which is likely to be at least five years. 

7.     We recommend that in the light of current failures in the system in North West London there is an independent review of the emergency system under the auspices of the above joint health and local authority initiative; and that this as a matter of urgency examines the closure of Hammersmith and Central Middlesex A&E departments with a view to opening these, if that is what the review suggests is needed, and what local people want. Local people must be given honest and genuine choices; the opportunity cost of retaining these sites as A&Es must be made apparent. 

8.     We recommend that there is a review of primary care services in the region, and that following this review, immediate steps are taken to rectify any issues. However any investment must be based on a clear business case that relates costs and benefits to changes across the whole system. 

9.     Likewise we recommend that there is a review of OOH services in the region, to establish a clear case if it exists for OOH acting as a way of reducing demand for acute services, and also as a way of reducing total system costs. Following this review, any investment in OOH services must be based on a clear business case that relates costs and benefits to changes across the whole system. 

10.  In the case of changes that take place in primary care and OOH services as a result of the reviews outlined above, there must be a clear business case presented that makes a clear case for system- wide improvement arising out of these changes, and this should be consulted on with the relevant local populations; there should be no assumption that this is the population of the whole of North West London. 

The full report can be read here: 

The commission's final public session will be held at the Brent Civic Centre on Saturday 9 May 9am-5pm. Brent Trades Council and Brent Fightback are among those who have submitted evidence. It would be good to have as many health campaigners as possible at this session. More evidence will be heard

Sunday 26 April 2015

Protesters demand rebuilding of the Carlton Tavern after its demolition by property speculators

Guest blog by Ella Downing

A successful protest was held today against the demolition of the Carlton Tavern. Around 75 men, women and children attended including local residents, councillors and activists.

The demolition was a act of sheer vandalism by property speculators only interested in profit, regardless of the cost to the local community, and with little or no regard for health and safety.

A further protest will be held outside Porchester Hall at 6:30pm on Wednesday the 29th of April where a council meeting will discuss the matter. Pressure must be put on Westminster to act, and we demand the rebuilding of the Carlton Tavern!

Saturday 25 April 2015

Caroline Lucas clarifies Green's copyright proposals & tells creatives 'I'm absolutely on your side'

Greens campaigning in Neasden today were approached by a musician who, although supportive of the Greens was concerned about reports that we wished to 'reduce copyright to 14 years'.

In a recent blog LINK Caroline Lucas has confirmed that this means 14 years after the death of the creator - not 14 years after the copyright is established.

Nevertheless Lucas has called on the Green Party to review its copyright policy.  She writes:
At present many creators are in a stranglehold from our copyright laws, which see big corporation control the rights to work for eg 70 years after the creator dies in the case of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works.  Some years ago I worked with artists like Billy Bragg to challenge the way that music corporations take a huge cut of royalties, leaving only leftovers for the artists. We wanted to try and return copyright to the artists it's supposed to benefit.
She says the 14 year proposal...
...isn't in our general election manifesto because it is just a proposal - not something we want to introduce as a priority in the next 5 years. What is in the manifesto is a commitment to copyright laws that protect creators - fairer, more flexible and shorter. To bring the law up to date to better reflect the demands of the digital age.  To increase government arts funding by £500 million a year, helping to keep local museums, theatres, libraries and art galleries open. And to better support fair pay productions in the arts.
Addressing composers, photographers, musicians and other creatives she  writes:
I'm absolutely on your side. Artists and writers have to be able to make a living and fairly benefit from their work.   I know that many often live in poverty for years before seeing any financial reward for their work and I would never back any proposal that did not take fair account of that fact. A copyright regime that both supports innovation and ensures people are fairly remunerated for their work is possible if we rebalance the power away from the big corporations and back into the hands of artists.

Rebecca Johnson pledges to Save the NHS if elected in response to 38 Degrees petition

Rebecca Johnson (Green), Tulip Siddiq (Labour) and Magnus Nielsen (UKIP) today received a petition signed by 2,528 Hampstead and Kilburn residents calling on them to pledge to save the NHS from privatisation, funding cuts and TTIP. Another 500 plus more sigantures were collected during the day. The petition was presented at a ceremony outside Waitrose in Finchley Road and the Raised Voices choir provided a musical commentary. Rebecca joined in with the choir. Tulip and Magnus did not. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates were invited but did not attend.

Election meeting on zero hours contracts Wednesday 29th April

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) are at the receiving end of  a shift to zero hours contracts.  The local branch of the UCU based at the College of North West London have organised this public meeting to discuss the issue with parliamentary candidates for Brent Central.

Note: I am aware that the spelling should be Learie Constantine. Apologies, but this was on the original pdf received from the UCU. MF

Recruiting Brent Council's Chief Executive – ‘no illegality in the process’ but...

Guest posting by Philip Grant

Last month’s blog about the permanent Chief Executive job at Brent Council finally being advertised LINK generated a great deal of interest. Among the comments (129 at the last count) some serious concerns were raised, so I wrote to Brent’s Chief Legal Officer, Fiona Alderman, to bring them to her attention. Four weeks later I have received a reply, the key sentence of which is as follows:

I have considered the issues which you have raised but am satisfied that there is no illegality in the process currently underway for the recruitment of a Chief Executive.’

Although I have to respect her opinion that there is nothing illegal in the recruitment process, the legality was not what I had written about. The purpose of my email was summarised as follows:

‘It is very important that the appointment of a permanent Chief Executive at Brent Council, to lead by example as Head of Paid Service, is not only conducted fairly, but is seen to be conducted fairly.’

I had referred to several “anomalies” on the practical side of the recruitment process ‘which, if not addressed, are likely to mean that it will not be seen to be conducted fairly.’

There are some aspects of the recruitment process which may already be unfair, but which it is too late to change. The briefing pack issued to potential applicants makes clear that the post has been designed with the current Leader of the Council in mind. Part Four of the “Person Specification”, which candidates must show they meet, is actually headed “Chemistry and ‘fit’ between the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council.” The previous permanent Chief Executive, Gareth Daniel, was in the post for fourteen years and served a number of Council Leaders, from different political parties, before leaving because of irreconcilable differences with Cllr. Muhammed Butt, just four months after he was elected as Leader in 2012. And yet, unlikely as it may seem, Brent Council could elect a different Leader at the same meeting as it is asked to approve the appointment of a new Chief Executive recruited to ‘fit’ with Cllr. Butt’s ways of working.

One source of potential unfairness is the small number of people who will actually have any influence over who is chosen for the post. These will include the current interim Chief Executive, Christine Gilbert, and Director of HR, Cara Davani. Questions have already been raised about appointments of their “cronies” to other senior Brent Council posts LINK  The fortunes of Ms Gilbert and Ms Davani also appear to be closely linked with those of the Leader of the Council, and Cllr. Butt has not yet answered the question of why he is still “protecting” these two senior officers, when he has known about their misconduct in the Rosemarie Clarke Employment Tribunal case since at least September 2014. That question was put to him in February 2015 LINK

Good online detective work by “Wembley Matters” readers has shown that there are close links, during their time at Tower Hamlets Council and at Ofsted, between Ms Gilbert and Ms Davani, and Shahidul Miah of Bloomsbury Resourcing Ltd. That one-man company is one of two recruitment consultants handling the search for Brent’s new Chief Executive, along with Davidson & Partners. It is unclear from the briefing pack what the respective roles of the two consultancies are, but the involvement of Mr Miah does raise concerns that the external and internal sides of the recruitment process may not be independent of each other.

Under the Council’s Constitution (Standing Order 77) the shortlist of candidates who will be interviewed for the post will be drawn up by the (interim) Chief Executive, ‘or another officer nominated by him or her’, most probably the Director of HR. The list is then submitted ‘to the Chair of the Senior Staff Appointments Sub-Committee’. If the Chair agrees the list, ‘then the shortlist prepared by the officer shall stand.’ If not, ‘a meeting of the Senior Staff Appointments Sub-Committee shall be held to determine the shortlist.’ The Council’s website shows that the Chair of this “SSASC” is Cllr. Muhammed Butt, so once again the trio of the Council Leader, Ms Gilbert and Ms Davani hold the power to decide who will, or will not, be considered for the job.

The composition, and Chair, of the SSASC was one of the main points which I raised in my email to Ms Alderman. Under Brent’s Constitution, the SSASC comprises 5 councillors, 'at least one of whom shall be a member of the Cabinet'. This wording appears to have been designed as part of a system of “checks and balances”, to ensure that power over senior staff appointments is shared between Executive and backbench councillors. While it does not say that there should be only one member of the Cabinet on the sub-committee, as the Constitution also gives Cabinet members other rights to object to proposed appointments, it seems odd that the SSASC currently comprises four Cabinet members, plus the leader of the official Conservative group.

As stated above, Cllr. Butt chairs the SSASC (to be fair, his predecessor, Cllr. Ann John, did so before him, although with only one, or at most two, other Executive members, and at least two members from opposition parties on the sub-committee). I have suggested that Cllr. Butt should allow a backbench councillor to replace him as Chair of the SSASC for the recruitment of the new Chief Executive, and that one or two other Cabinet members should appoint non-Cabinet substitute councillors for this process. Brent’s Chief Legal Officer did not comment of this suggestion, other than to thank me ‘for [my] observations’.

The SSASC will interview the shortlisted applicants, and its Chair must then notify to the Council’s Director of HR ‘the name of the person to whom it wishes to make an offer together with any other particulars the sub-committee considers are relevant to the appointment.’ It is at this point that a clear conflict of interests arises, because the HR Director then has to notify every member of the Cabinet of these details, and of ‘the period within which any objection to the making of the offer is to be made by the Leader on behalf of the Cabinet to the [Director of HR] and the Chair of the sub-committee.’

Part of the “checks and balances” on the fair appointment of senior officers built into Brent’s Constitution is to separate the roles of Chair of the SSASC and Leader of the Council, as one heads the sub-committee which choses the preferred candidate, while the other heads the Cabinet which has the right to review and object to that choice (even though that may seem unlikely in practice, when half of the Cabinet are also currently members of the SSASC). If there were an objection, the Leader then has to give notice ‘of any objection which the Leader or any other member of the Cabinet has to the proposed appointment’ to both the HR Director and the Chair of the SSASC (imagine the scene: “I, Cllr. Butt, as Leader of the Council, give you, Cllr. Butt, as Chair of the SSASC, notice …”). In that case, the SSASC would have to reconvene, ‘to consider the objection and to consider whether to confirm the appointment.’

While Brent’s Constitution does not say that the Leader of the Council and Chair of the SSASC cannot be the same person, it is difficult to see how the recruitment process can be seen to be fair if this is the case. It could be argued that having the two roles held by the same person allows the process to dealt with more quickly and efficiently; but that argument could also be used to combine the roles of judge and jury in the criminal justice system, which many would feel could make that system less fair or just.

For the appointment of a Chief Executive, the proposed candidate 'must be approved at a meeting of the Full Council before an offer of appointment is made'. The proposed date, shown in the briefing pack, for the SSASC’s final interview panel is 18 or 19 May, and the next Full Council meeting is the Annual Meeting on 20 May. The final point I made to Ms Alderman was that this would not give the elected members of Full Council given sufficient time to consider properly whether they should approve the proposed appointment. I suggested that the date of the final interview panel should be brought forward by a few days, and that Officers should ensure that all members of the Council are notified with details of the person who it is proposed should be appointed as Chief Executive in good time (at least several days) before the Full Council meeting on 20 May. I do not know whether any changes have been made as a result of these suggestions.

Brent’s Chief Legal Officer is also its Monitoring Officer, a role which includes trying to ensure that the Council’s committees, sub-committees and officers do not act in a way which breaches codes of practice, or which may give rise to maladministration or injustice. I hoped that by bringing the points above to Ms Alderman’s attention, the potential unfairness in the recruitment process for the Chief Executive post could be avoided. It is not my intention to criticise Ms Alderman, who may have done all that she can to achieve this end. The overall responsibility for ensuring a fair appointment lies with the interim Chief Executive and the Leader of the Council.

We will find out next month whether my efforts have helped to produce an appointment which is seen to be fair, or whether those at the top of Brent Council are determined to bring it further into disrepute. If it appears that the person proposed as the new Chief Executive may not have been recruited fairly, I hope that councillors will be prepared to challenge his or her appointment at Full Council, rather than just nod through their approval of it.

Vote Green in Hampstead & Kilburn and reject Austerity Plus and Austerity Lite

Green voters in Hampstead and Kilburn are being told on the doorstep by Labour  that the outcome is 'too close ro call' and that they should vote Labour to prevent a possible Tory victory.  Green candidate Rebecca Johnson has been well received by voters at hustings and on the street.

Here she gives her reaction to that 'advice':

Rebecca Johnson, Green candidate for H&K will pledge to protect the NHS from privatisation, funding cuts and TTIP this afternoon

A cause the Greens support
38 Degrees members in Hampstead and Kilburn are to present a petition this afternoon outside Waitrose, close to Finchley Road station, asking candidates for the constituency to protect the NHS if elected.  Rebecca Johnson, Green Party candidate in H&K will be there.

The event starts at 3.30pm and is expected to last about 30 minutes.

This is the text of the petition:
Our NHS is precious. Please do everything you can to protect it, including:

* Stopping privatisation
* Making sure it has the funding it needs to provide high quality healthcare to everyone
* Protecting it from US health corporations by keeping the NHS out of TTIP

Why is this important?

Our NHS is precious. We all rely on it to care for us and our loved ones. We want to protect it for the future, and we don't want to see it run down or sold off.

Over the past few years, NHS funding has been squeezed so much that services are suffering. This winter, hospitals up and down the country have declared "major incidents" because they're struggling to cope. And now most hospitals are warning that their budget for next year has " reached the point where patient care is at risk."

Meanwhile, the government is letting profit-hungry companies take over more and more NHS services. At at a time of squeezed budgets, this is the last thing the NHS needs. We want an NHS where patient safety is put first, and where the NHS is run for the public good.

TTIP, the planned trade deal between the EU and the USA, could threaten the NHS further. If TTIP opens our NHS to American private healthcare companies, we could see even more privatisation and a slide into more US-style healthcare. We want the NHS excluded from TTIP.

Friday 24 April 2015

Tulip, Dawn and War

Prior to Ed Miliband's speech today there had been press comment that foreign policy had played little part in the General Election campaign. Here is Brent we did have a cross-Brent hustings on War, Peace and the Middle East where some of these issues were raised. LINK

'Unintended consequences' of military intervention is as pertinent to Labour as it is to the Conservatives given Blair's intervention in Iraq. What is suprising to me is the lack of comment on Chilcot and the decision to put it on the back burner until after the election. Surely the findings should have formed a centre piece of this General Election?

At the hustings Tulip Siddiq (Labour candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn)  gave specific undertakings about war and said that she had voted for Ed Miliband precisely because David Miliband was too associated with Tony Blair and the Iraq War.

Dawn Butler was not invited to that particular hustings but was asked about her views at a subsequent election meeting. She said she had been against the war in 2003 and had voted against an inquiry in June 2007 because she thought it would have impacted on the British troops that were deployed in Iraq at the time.

This is the motion that Dawn Butler voted for. Only 8 Labour MPs voted against.
  This House, recognising that there have already been four separate independent committees of inquiry into military action in Iraq and recognising the importance of learning all possible lessons from military action in Iraq and its aftermath, declines at this time, whilst the whole effort of the Government and the armed forces is directed towards improving the condition of Iraq, to make a proposal for a further inquiry which would divert attention from this vital task
Earlier in 2006 she had asked Tony Blair a question in the House of Commons which seemed to indicate some disquiet about policy in Iraq.

Butler was subsequently seen as a government loyalist. She seconded the Queen's Speech in November 2007 and became Assistant Chief Whip in September 2008.

Attending the hustings in Brent there have been a number of occasions when candidates have been asked if they would defy the party line (and the party whips) on issues of principle. It is clearly an issue that concerns local people and the shadow of Iraq, it seems to me, is behind much of that concern as Iraq and the war figured quite large in the Brent Central battle between Dawn Butler and Sarah Teather.

Butler's Green challenger in Brent Central, Shahrar Ali, has claimed in his election material that he, rather than Dawn, is Teather's natural successor as far as issues of war and Israel-Palesrtine are concerned.

Over in Hampstead and Kilburn, Tulip Siddiq is challenged by Green candidate Rebecca Johnson, who has a long and distinguished record in the peace and disarmanent movement and is a member of Women In BlackLINK

Footnote: In case you are wondering, Barry Gardiner, speaking in 2003 after Robin Cook resigned over Iraq stated: 'The Prime Minister has behaved with absolute integrity' but had a different position by 2011 over Libya:  LINK

BBC June 7th 2011
Amid growing unease about Nato's role, MPs are expected to press for a statement on Libya on Tuesday when Parliament returns from its 10-day recess.

Although he voted for the Iraq invasion in 2003, Mr Gardiner says the parallels between the two situations are "ironic".

"Every single argument that has been used over the last eight years to decry what happened in Iraq is being used to justify - with much less justification - what is going on in Libya," he argues.
Despite the frequent military interventions of the Blair years, he believes Labour should be looking further back into its history for its foreign policy principles.

"There is a historic role for Labour that is not being followed through here - as effectively an anti-war party that recognises war is the worst option and something that should be avoided becoming embroiled in at all costs."

And while in no doubt about the nature of the Gaddafi regime, he worries that the current intervention sets a worrying precedent for the future.

"The danger is we are being drawn into a position, in terms of what we should be doing internationally, of it 'does not matter because it is only Gaddafi'."