Monday, 22 June 2015

Kilburn councillor launches blog with email revelations over Brent HS2 vent meeting

Cllr John Duffy, Labour, Kilburn ward has launched a blog site this morning, Kilburn Calling,  LINK which states as its intention 'A blog that speaks out about the issues and concerns of people who live in the Kilburn area of the London Borough of Brent'.

Cllr Duffy attempted to persuade the Labour Group to raise Council Tax during the pre-budget consultation, arguing that to do so could prevent some of the worse of the cuts, particularly the ending of funding to Stonebridge Adventure Playground.

At the last full Council Meeting (there is another tonight) he protested that Kilburn had become disenfranchised because none of its councillors had been allocated places on Council committees.

In a posting today LINK he reveals what he claims to be an attempt by a senior Brent officer to stop him informing residents about his attendance at a key meeting on the controversial HS2 vent issue.

This is what he says:

A funny thing happen to me over the weekend, I received a email from a senior officer in Brent council, telling me about a meeting to discuss the HS2 train link running under Kilburn and the placing of the vent shaft.

The email said:
“Please accept this meeting request for discussions on the HS2 Vent Shaft issue that has arisen.
XXXX has called this meeting to ensure you all have the opportunity to be factually briefed on the issue, especially from the South Kilburn Regeneration perspective.
The meeting will be held at xxxxx. xxxxx (full address below). Please ask for XXXX XXXX upon arrival”.
I accepted the invitation to the meeting and believed I should inform the Chair of the local residents to highlight the fact that I was attending and therefore assuring them that their voice was being heard. So I forwarded the email to the Chair of the local residents a Mr F and merely added “FYI”. Believing that I had acted as a good councilor, I then prepared to enjoy my weekend. 

However on Friday night I received this letter from a Senior Director, which he had cc the leader of the council. Saying that he noticed I had forwarded his email stating.

Dear Councillor Duffy,

This is a private briefing for the new MP, the Leader, and relevant Lead Members from the cabinet and ward councilors only. It isn't an open meeting for members of the public or wider party members. I would wholly expect one outcome of the meeting to be wider consultation and engagement on the issues and we can discuss the approach to this at the meeting.

Can I leave you to inform Mr F of this situation please?
Thanks - see you next week
I was initially taken back by what I saw of an invasion of my private correspondence with a Constituent. However it would seem that Brent council operate a system that traces any person to whom they have sent an invitation to and any other person that the recipient forwards it onto. This despite the fact that the email did not state it was private or secret.

Because of my concern about this I then forwarded this note to two other colleagues asking them to advise me about what I saw as intrusion into my private email correspondence with my constituents.
To my amazement I received another email from the Director, which was sent to all of the three of my constituents I had emailed. Which said:
Dear Mr P, Mr G, MR K,

I understand that you have been forwarded a notification of the above meeting by Cllr Duffy.
Regrettably this meeting is a private briefing for local politicians and therefore attendance is restricted and I am afraid that you won't be able to attend.
One of the purposes of the meeting is to discuss how we best engage and consult with the many different residents and partners who have an interest in this issue with a view to ensuring that everybody's voice is heard.  I will make sure you are all notified of the relevant consultation meetings when they are set up.

Many apologies for the misunderstanding.”

It is clear the officer involved believes he alone controls the meeting; his way of dealing with councilors is by dictating to them and believes he can instruct councilors to obey him, because presumably he is an officer.

The way the officer has handle this situation and the tone of his emails is of great concern to me, it reeks of “big brother ” and his interference by directly emailing my constituents is frankly unbelievable. It is as if I had been a very “ bad boy “ and he is telling me off. It is condescending and I believe undermines the respect officers should show to elected representatives.

I am sure there are many Cabinet Members and Councilors, who believe they should just obey officers’ instructions and do what ever they say, and do not stand their ground. This officer seems to have confused me with one of them. 

I was quite happy to attend the meeting itself. I never invited anyone else contrary to the officer’s wild allegation. This meeting is about the vent shaft for HS2.  There are two options being discussed: one in Queens Park  (next to the station) and the other in South Kilburn next to St Mary’s RC School in the middle of the regeneration area that has been blighted as a building site for the last nine years.
I however do not accept the implicit suggestion from these officers that this will be sited (as indicated in their first e-mail) in the South Kilburn regeneration area. These residents have lived on a building site for last 9 years and have been shafted by the Tory government over the years by cuts in services, the bedroom tax and family credits etc. So I will attend the meeting to do my best to ensure the residents of South Kilburn are not literally “Shafted” again by both the Tory Government and over zealous Officers.


Anonymous said...

Dear Residents
We're having a meeting about an issue which concerns you but you shouldn't have heard about it and you can't come to it because you might want to engage with it and have your voice heard..
'One of the purposes of the meeting is to discuss how we best engage and consult with the many different residents and partners who have an interest in this issue with a view to ensuring that everybody's voice is heard.'
I hope this clarifies the position.

XXXXXXXXXXX (name redacted in order to save the officer from universal ridicule)

Mike Hine

Anonymous said...

Both sites are in South Kilburn and part of the regeneration area. Please consult a map before going to the meeting.

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group said...

Well said, Cllr Duffy!

The officers' attitude to South Kilburn residents reminds me of attituddes toward disabled peoples' empowerment within what has now become Jobcentre Plus within the Department for Work & Pensions [sic].

While on a period of 'Work Preparation' at Hendon College paid for by my [then Employment Service] Disability Employment Adviser in 1999 I asked my DEA for a copy of the Action Plan that I had agreed to so that I could be a truly active particpant in the programme, especially as the Action Plan would be relevant to the outcomes and review procedures. Her response was that all such paperwork involved was "confidential to the Employment Service and to the service provider. You can see a copy of the Action Plan in my presence, but cannot have a copy for yourself." Brilliant, especially as my disability involves short-term memory.

Disability charity Skill (National Bureau for Students with Disabilities in post-16 education) affirmed to me by emial that that practice was contrary to my information rights; and the College took such a different view of the matter from the Employment Service point of view that they sent me transcript notes based upon the Action Plan allowed participants and allowed participants to review the exit reports made of them and even propose amendments to the draft exit report.

That was 1999 and Skill closed in 2011 through starvation of funds. It seems to me that charities really need to be far more indepent from statutory funding to be enabled to continue informing, advising, guiding and speaking out for THEIR constituents. And we know what has happened to Government policy regarding disabled people since 2011, or at least I hope we do.

And re South Kilburn residents 'living on a building site' for nine years, and their having been told back in 1997 that things were going to get better for them, that has made them all the more vulnerable. Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr warned of "the tranquilising drug of gradualism."

Nan. said...

In days gone by, the officer concerned would be firmly reminded that it is not correct to interfere in Members' communications with residents.

Nowadays, Chief Executive, Gilbert simply follows the Davani dog training protocol - 'We Say, You Do'. Then again, perhaps that is placing Members too high up the food chain and sheep training may be nearer the mark.

Given that the Information Commissioners Office gives specific guidance on how to deal with Freedom of Information requests that involve correspondence between elected members and their consitiuents, I suspect there may a basis for the ICO looking into the goings-on in Brent.

Of course, if councillors feel their interests are being undermined, they can always take direct action and forward every piece of council correspondence except those marked 'confidential' to all the residents groups on their patch. This also has the merit of being a great idea for promoting public engagement anyway.

The council officerdom will probably retailiate by marking all e-mails to councillors as 'confidential'. Councillors will then be able to challenge the ridiculous behaviour of the half-wits whose salaries we are all paying.

Nan Tewari said...

Dear Cllr Duffy,

A beginning of the slippery slope was when council Members gave up the right to sit on Staff Appeals Panels and left it to officers. I was reliably informed (by a councillor, no less) that it was difficult to put panels togather as Members were not volunteering to do them and furthermore, that Members could not be relied upon to make the right decisions (illiterate lot that you are).

It is partly laziness on the part of Members that has led to this situation where officers believe they can tell you what to do.

You have allowed yourselves to be tied up by officer rules on delegations to Committee Meetings. It used to be the case that a Committee Chair would allow a delegation at short notice by putting the question of whether to hear the delegation, to Committee Members (democracy in action in which no officer would ever have dreamt of interfering). SInce Members wished to be 'protected' from having to listen to anything they found unpalatable, it was most agreeable to them that Officers picked up the 'burden' of keeping such unruly people as Philip Grant, and extremists as Martin Francis, firmly under control.

Dry your tears, Cllr Duffy, and work with your fellow elected representatives to see what you can now salvage of the fine mess you and your colleagues have gotten yourselves into.

Nan Tewari said...

"XXXXXXXXXXX (name redacted in order to save the officer from universal ridicule)"

Animal, vegetable or mineral?

Animal, possibly vegetable if brain counted.

Male animal.

Director genus.

So close.... it's on the tip of my tongue .................. now what IS his name?

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group said...

So far there are only two comments on Cllr Duffy's original blog piece about this matter. LINK

Anonymous said...

We prefer to hang out here :)

Pete Firmin said...

One possible site is in Kilburn, the other in Queens Park.

Anonymous said...

One site is in the heart of the South Kilburn estate (Canterbury Works) and the other is by Queens Park station but both come under the South Kilburn regeneration area so when the officer talks about the shaft being sited in South Kilburn it does not NECESSARILY mean there is an assumption it will be at the Canterbury Works site. However there are indications that it probably will be and the council is clearly favouring this option.

Anonymous said...

From the start Bernt Council have been trying to dump the Vent Shaft on the residents near the Canterbury Works - they want it our the way and thought it would be easy to get it by the less well off residents there.
QPARA are very against the Station Car Park vent and have a very strong voice at Brent Council.
Good on the Canterbury works /School protester for at last getting this out and showing people what Brent Councul really cared about.

Anonymous said...

QPARA is run by James Denselow's mother

Anonymous said...

QPARA is run by James Denselow's mother, Janis.

Anonymous said...

There are some very good reasons relating to the financing of new buildings and re-building of housing for existing residents that make Canterbury works site by far preferable for all concerned. There would also be less impact on the school because the alternative to the vent shaft is another block of flats. There is a lot of muddying of the water by the Canterbury works campaigners. It's obviously a breifing for the new MP since she went and met the CW people and seemed to express support. Watch out now for her turning around pretty sharpish on this issue.