Monday, 7 September 2015

Brent Labour support gag on deputation on need for high standards in carrying out council business

 This is the deputation Philip Grant would have given at tonight's Full Brent Council Meeting if he had he not been forbidden to do so by Fiona Alderman,Brent Chief Legal Officer. Challenged to give her reasons for the ban she repeated the contents of an email she sent to Philip Grant last Wednesday.  He had replied to that response setting out the reasons his deputation should be allowed. He sent her a copy of the deputation so that she could see for herself that it was not a campaign and not a personal attack on individuals. She did not refer to this in her account to Full Council..

When Cllr Warren moved suspension of standing orders to hear Philip Grant's deputation only Brondesburty Park Conservatives voted for it. Most Labour  councillors voted against with Cllr Duffy and Crane and the Kenton Conservatives abstaining.

The importance of high standards of conduct in carrying out the functions of
Brent Council.

I am here as an individual, but I hope that the many Brent residents and staff who have raised similar concerns will feel that I am speaking for them as well.

I would like to welcome Carolyn Downs to Brent. She has a very important job as Brent’s new Chief Executive, and a key part of that role is in setting an example of the highest standards of conduct to the staff she leads. Those standards are summed-up by the principles of integrity, selflessness, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
I know that I am not the only Brent resident who feels that these high standards of conduct have been allowed to slip by some senior figures at Brent in recent years. I can illustrate what I mean through a recent example, where proper accountability and openness does not appear to have been shown by Ms Downs’ predecessor.
In June 2015 it was announced that Brent’s Director of HR was leaving the Council, to take a career break. Many were surprised that she had been allowed to stay in post, following findings of fact made against her a year ago by an Employment Tribunal. It found that she had victimised, and facilitated the constructive dismissal of, a fellow officer who had complained of being bullied by her.  

Rumours quickly emerged from the Civic Centre that the departing Director of HR was receiving a “pay off” from Brent. Serious concerns about this were raised, by me and others, from 12 June onwards. The original questions to the interim Chief Executive were dismissed on 8 July with the statement: 

I am advised that the Council cannot legally disclose any details of the arrangements relating to Ms Davani’s departure.’
On 9 July I asked the interim Chief Executive two simple questions which did not require the disclosure of any details of the arrangements. Those questions are still unanswered, despite reminders from me, and requests from a number of individual Labour councillors, and the leaders of both Conservative groups. 

I would ask the Council and its Officers for the honest answers to them now:

1. Can Brent Council confirm that there has not been, and that there will not be, any financial payment by the Council to Cara Davani in connection with her leaving the Council’s employment as Director of HR and Administration, other than her normal salary payment up to 30 June 2015?  YES or NO.
2. Can Brent Council confirm that it has not agreed, and will not agree, to pay any award of compensation, damages or costs made against Cara Davani personally, as a separately named respondent from Brent Council, in any Employment Tribunal or other legal proceedings in which she and the Council are named parties?   YES or NO.

It is important that these questions should be answered. If you don’t, people will rightly ask: “what are they hiding, and WHY?” If either or both of the answers is “no”, councillors, staff and residents should be told who made the decisions over the “pay off”, and why it was considered to be justified.

All of you, as Brent’s councillors, have a duty to satisfy yourselves that any such “pay off” is not a mis-use of Council funds. 

·      Ask yourselves, why shouldn’t Brent respect the judgement of an independent Tribunal, if it decides that an award should be made against Ms Davani personally?
·      Why shouldn’t your Scrutiny Committee, meeting this Wednesday, use its power to scrutinise the decisions in this matter?
·      What will you say to your constituents, when you have to make further cuts to their services, and they ask why you turned a blind eye to the “pay off” to Ms Davani?
In a farewell message to the Council’s staff in September 2012, after he had ‘agreed with the political leadership to move on’, Gareth Daniel said:
‘I believe that personal integrity is the foundation for good governance, and without it everything else is lost.’

The ‘few months’ we were promised it would take to recruit a new Chief Executive has turned into three years, and the high standards he set have been allowed to slip. I would urge both councillors and Council Officers to make answering my two questions the first step in putting high standards of conduct at the heart of how our borough is run, under Carolyn Downs’ stewardship.

Thank you.

Philip Grant
7 September 2015


Anonymous said...

AKA "The Cronies"
Are seemingly devoid of Principles
They have a closed shady shop that lacks Transparency
They appear to be disgracefully incestuous
Selfish, Corrupt & Dishonest

How could they ever understand or want to discuss the 7 Principles of good governance in public life. Shame on the lot of them!

Anonymous said...

Much as I would have liked to present my Deputation to the Full Council meeting yesterday evening, I do not think, on balance, that a motion to suspend standing orders would be the right way to achieve this.

If that precedent had been set, what would stop a majority group on the Council from voting to suspend standing orders, to prevent a Deputation being heard which the Chief Legal Officer had agree that a valid notice had been given for?

The "problem" lies with the absolute power given by Standing Order 39 to the Chief Legal Officer (and previously to the Legal Director), to use his or her discretion to decide whether the subject of a Deputation request is "inappropriate". Normally, you would hope that the Chief Legal Officer would exercise that discretion fairly, and with an open mind to any reasoned argument that he or she may have misdirected themselves.

In this case, as I explained to Ms Alderman in my email on 2 September, I believe that she allowed her judgement to be clouded by the correspondence we had already exchanged over my "two questions". Ms Alderman was only involved in that correspondence, and expected to defend the indefensible, because Christine Gilbert unfairly passed the matter to her.

If Ms Gilbert had answered the two questions I asked her, two months ago, which she must have known the answers to and had a duty to answer (and no valid reason not to answer), then this situation would not have arisen. That was why I used this recent example of a failure to uphold the principles of openness and accountability, by the most senior Council officer at that time, in my call for a return to high standards of conduct at Brent Council.

Philip Grant.