A guest blog by Philip Grant.
The saga of my “two questions” to Brent’s 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 Brent’s 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 Brent’s Chief Executive on 7 September. It needs to be dealt with now.’
“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 Brent’s 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.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.
· 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.
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’.
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”.