Thursday, 27 August 2015

Cara Davani - will Brent's Full Council meeting be allowed to hear the "two questions", and get the answers?

A guest blog by Philip Grant.

The saga of my two questions to Brents interim Chief Executive, Christine Gilbert, over a probable pay off to Cara Davani, continues. See LINK for the back story. Despite my email reply on 13 August to the latest response from Brents Chief Legal Officer, on behalf of Ms Gilbert, I have heard nothing further from either of them. I had sent a short reminder to both officers on 20 August, including the following:

I am sure that you realise that there is no valid reason why Ms Gilbert should not answer the two questions I first put to her six weeks ago. Her continued reluctance to give those simple yes or no answers, and to explain the justification for any such pay off to Cara Davani if either or both of the answers is no, can only fuel speculation that she is trying to conceal some impropriety.

It would be unfair of Ms Gilbert to leave this matter unresolved, so that her successor, Carolyn Downs, has to pick up the pieces when she takes up the post of Brents Chief Executive on 7 September. It needs to be dealt with now.

If they thought that my two questions would go away if they simply ignored them, they were mistaken (although Ms Gilbert will be leaving Brent shortly, so perhaps she doesnt care that someone else will have to deal with the problem she has created). In the interests of transparency, here is the full text of an email which I sent to the Chief Legal Officer at around 7pm on Wednesday 26 August, headed 

Notice under Standing Order 39 - Deputation for Full Council meeting on 7 September 2015

Why did I send it so soon? A person wishing to make a Deputation to a Full Council meeting has to give written notice not less than 5 days before the date of the meeting. The date of the meeting is Monday 7 September (at 7pm), but the deadline for giving notices under Standing Order 39 is midday on Thursday 27 August. Under Brents rules, you can't count five days on the fingers of one hand!

Text of Full Council deputation email to Fiona Alderman on 26 August:

Dear Ms Alderman,

I am writing to give notice under Standing Order 39 that I wish to make a Deputation to Brent’s Full Council meeting on Monday 7 September 2015. Please acknowledge receipt of this notice, and let me know how many other such notices, if any, have been received within the time limit for that meeting.

The title of my Deputation is “The importance of high standards of conduct in carrying out the functions of Brent Council”, and a summary of its content is as follows:
·      A welcome to Brent’s new Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, and reminder of the importance of that position in setting an example of the highest standards of conduct.
·      Expressing a feeling that conduct at senior levels in the Civic Centre may have slipped below the high standards expected in recent years.
·      Cite one recent example where proper accountability and openness does not appear to have been shown by Ms Down’s predecessor, namely serious concerns raised from 12 June 2015 onwards over a possible “pay off” to the former Director of HR, which have not yet been resolved.
·      Repeat the two questions which were first put to the interim Chief Executive on 9 July, and are still unanswered, despite reminders, and requests from two Conservative group leaders and a number of individual Labour councillors.
·      Explain why it is important that these questions should be answered, and why any “no” answer needs to be backed up with an explanation of why any decision to make a “pay off” was considered to be justified.
·      Remind all councillors of their duty to satisfy themselves that any such “pay off” is not a misuse of Council funds.
·      Encourage councillors and officers to make answering the two questions the first step in a return to high standards of conduct under our new Chief Executive. 
I am aware that Standing Order 39 sets out a number of conditions which must be met before a request to make a Deputation to Full Council can be accepted.

Under 39(a), I can confirm that I am a ‘member of the public’ (a Brent resident and rate/Council Tax payer at the same address in Fryent Ward since 1983). Although I have requested to be allowed to present deputations to the Council and Scrutiny Committee during the past six months, I have not actually ‘made’ any such deputations, and my subject is not a repetition of a subject on which a deputation has been ‘made’.

Under 39(b):-
i.         My Deputation directly concerns a matter affecting the borough (resolving serious concerns raised by residents over a possible “pay off” to a former Brent employee) and relates to a Council function (the way in which Council officers, Full Council and its committees, deal with concerns raised over possible misuse of Council funds).

ii.         Although the second of my two questions includes the words ‘any Employment Tribunal or other legal proceedings’, my Deputation does not ‘relate to legal proceedings’. I will not mention any proceedings by name, or name the claimant in the particular Employment Tribunal case (where the judgement is already final) that has given rise to my interest in this matter. Nothing in my Deputation will have any effect on how the Tribunal decides its remedy hearing, only on whether Brent Council will respect and accept that decision after it is made.

iii.         My Deputation does not relate to a matter which is, or has been, the subject of a complaint under the Council’s complaints processes. 

iv.         My Deputation is not, and will not be, ‘frivolous, vexatious, or defamatory’. I have made every effort to get serious concerns, which I first raised two and a half months ago, settled by direct requests for information and answers, backed up by reasoned argument. As senior officers of the Council have, so far, failed to resolve those concerns, I am seeking to use a right given to Brent’s citizens under its Constitution to bring the matter before Full Council, and use it as an example to support the new Chief Executive in promoting high standards of conduct at Brent Council.
I believe that my Deputation meets the conditions set out by (a) and (b) of Standing Order 39, but there is one further proviso at (b):

‘The Chief Legal Officer shall have discretion to decide whether the deputation is for any other reason inappropriate and cannot proceed.’

That proviso gives you great power, but before you exercise that power I would ask you to consider the following points:-

a.    Deputations were introduced in changes to Brent’s Constitution approved by Full Council in June 2014. In commenting publicly on this provision at the time:
‘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.” ‘ [”Brent & Kilburn Times”, 12 June 2014]

b.    Two of the seven “purposes” of Brent’s Constitution, set out at Article 1.4 (in Part 2) are:
‘create a powerful and effective means of holding decision-makers to public account;’
‘ensure that those responsible for decision making are clearly identifiable to local people and that they explain the reasons for decisions.’

c.     Article 1.5 of the Constitution states:
‘Where this Constitution permits the Council to choose between different courses of action, the Council will always choose that option which it thinks is closest to the purposes stated above.’

d.    Standing Order 39 is part of Brent’s Constitution (in Part 3), so that in exercising your discretion between allowing my Deputation to be heard, or deciding that it ‘cannot proceed’, I believe you should choose the option which ‘is closest to the purposes stated above’. (See b. above)

e.    As Monitoring Officer, you have a constitutional role in ‘the promotion and maintenance of high standards of conduct’ at Brent Council (Article 13.5). One of the aims of my Deputation is to assist in promoting high standards of conduct, and to encourage others to do the same as part of a “fresh start” under Brent’s new Chief Executive.

f.      For all of these reasons, I believe it would be inappropriate if you were to use your discretion to decide to prevent my Deputation being presented to Full Council on 7 September.

I look forward to receiving your confirmation that I can make my Deputation to Brent’s Full Council meeting on Monday 7 September.

I am copying this email to Lorraine King, news editor of the “Brent & Kilburn Times”, who will be interested to see how Cllr. Butt’s promise of allowing residents “to hold the Council to account” works in practice, and to Martin Francis, whose “Wembley Matters” online blog has championed transparency over the concerns I have raised, and whose readers have supported my efforts to get answers to my “two questions”.

Best wishes,
Philip Grant.


Anonymous said...

Hail Phillip - may the residents of Brent be with you in your quest for transparency and the way residents council tax is spent!

Anonymous said...

Please don't "Hail Philip" me; it is going a bit "over the top".

I am just an ordinary local resident who feels that someone has to "make a stand", and rather than expect "someone" to do it for me, I am foolish enough to do it myself!

If the residents of Brent do want to 'be with me' in this quest, they can be. Anyone who is interested can attend the Full Council meeting at Brent Civic Centre on Monday 7 September, at 7pm. I can't guarantee that I will be allowed to present my Deputation to that meeting (Ms Alderman, or her Executive Assistant, have not yet had the courtesy to acknowledge receipt of my notice to make a Deputation), although I can see no valid reason why my request to present it should be refused.

Another way that residents can show their support is by writing to their Ward Councillors, to say that they want Brent Council to answer the two questions that I put to Christine Gilbert, interim Chief Executive, on 9 July 2015. See the comments on my guest blog on 13 August, "Brent Council - same two questions, why no answers?", for more details on how to do this.

I know that I use a lot of words to make my points, but if you want to sum up the gist of what this is about in a sentence, when writing to your Councillors, how about this:

Is Cara Davani's career break being paid for by Brent Council Tax payers, and if so WHY?

Thanks again to Wembley Matters readers for all your support.

Philip Grant

Anonymous said...

May the Force be with you!

Anonymous said...

"Kill the head of the body will die" Have no doubt that you are also bating for those who work within the organisation are consequently victims of the Culture cascading from the Head of it.

Anonymous said...


If you are a local resident who has sent an email to your Ward Councillors, asking for Brent to answer my "two questions", or about the possible "pay off" to Cara Davani, it would help me to know that you have done so. I only want genuine answers, please - there is no value in asking our councillors and Council Officers to be honest, if we are not honest ourselves.

If you have sent an email, please use the "Reply" button below this comment to give brief details of your name (first name only, if you prefer), the Ward you live in (and sent your email to the councillors for) and the date of your email(s). I will give an example, using my own details:

Philip Grant / Fryent Ward / 12 June, 8 July, 17 July, 3 August and 21 August.

Thank you for your help with this!


Anonymous said...

Does anyone know whether Brent still has a Legal Services department? If it does, are they all on annual leave, and have forgotten to set their "out of office" messages?

I sent the email, in my guest blog above, on Wednesday evening, which the Chief Legal Officer should have seen on Thursday morning. Later that day, just before the midday deadline, I forwarded a copy to her Executive Assistant, asking her to acknowledge receipt of my notice. No reply to either email.

Today I sent an email to Ms Alderman, with copy to her Executive Assistant, headed: "Request for confirmation that Standing Order 39 notice was received". It read:-

'I wrote to you on Wednesday evening, 26 August 2015, to give notice under Standing Order 39 that I wish to make a Deputation to Brent’s Full Council meeting on Monday 7 September 2015. My opening paragraph included the request:

'Please acknowledge receipt of this notice, and let me know how many other such notices, if any, have been received within the time limit for that meeting.'

I would be grateful if you would let me have that acknowledgement, and details of any other such notices, by close of business today, please, before the Bank Holiday week-end. Thank you.'

Again, no response. It seems that standards of courtesy have slipped at Brent, as well as standards of conduct!

Or perhaps they think that by not acknowledging the existence of my notice to make a Deputation, they can deny me right to make one when it comes to the Full Council meeting on 7 September. If so, THINK AGAIN!

Philip Grant.

Anonymous said...

I am replying to my own comment at 19:34 yesterday evening, as I owe Fiona Alderman, Brent's Chief Legal Officer an apology for some of the things I said in my comment above. I have already sent that apology to her, but here is the reason for it.

I had checked my emails to see that no acknowledgement of my Standing Order 39 notice had been received before publishing my comment at 19:34, thinking that "close of business" for the Council's working week had passed. However, Ms Alderman sent me the following email message at 8:16 this morning (Saturday 29 August):
'I acknowledge receipt of your emails. I will need to consider the content of your proposed deputation carefully and will revert to you on Tuesday. Best wishes'

It may be that Ms Alderman is making use of flexible working arrangements for a better work/life balance. However, I suspect that this may be evidence of the additional workload placed on her by Cara Davani's second major restructuring of Brent's Senior Management structure, at the end of 2014, when the post of Legal Director was abolished. The further additional work, of having to deal with emails from me, dumped on Ms Alderman by Christine Gilbert's refusal to answer my two simple "yes" or "no" questions, can't have helped either.

I will, of course, let "Wembley Matters" readers know what Ms Alderman's response is next Tuesday, after she has carefully considered the content of my proposed Deputation.

Philip Grant.

Anonymous said...

Kevin / Stonebridge Ward / 1st September 2015

Anonymous said...

Fiona Alderman, Brent's Chief Legal Officer, today used her discretionary power to block my request to speak as a Deputation to the Full Council meeting on Monday 7 September.

I have responded, asking her to reconsider her decision, but there is probably only a tiny chance (if that!) that she will change her mind. I hope that the texts of her email, and mine, will appear as a "guest blog" shortly, so that Wembley Matters readers can understand the views on both sides, and form their own judgement.

For me, Cllr. Butt's promise, in June 2014, that Deputations would allow residents to hold the Council to account, has again proved to be an empty one.

Philip Grant.

Anonymous said...


The "guest blog", with texts of Fiona Alderman's latest email and my reply to it, is at:

See also the blog above it on 2 September, with news of another attempt to stop the Rosemarie Clarke case from being discussed at Full Council on 7 September!

Philip Grant.