Wednesday, 2 September 2015

BRENT SCANDAL: Cara Davani and Christine Gilbert – Yet another Deputation the Council won’t be allowed to hear! (or, “The Cover-up Continues”)

The cover-up at Brent Council is fast becoming a scandal and surely should at least be taken up by our local and London  press and TV. Here in a Guest Blog  Philip Grant shares the latest twist in the sordid tale:

In a guest blog last week LINK  I  let readers know that I had given notice to Brent’s Chief Legal Officer that I wished to present a Deputation to the Full Council meeting on 7 September. One element of that Deputation was to be asking, in open Council, for answers to the “two questions” I had put to Christine Gilbert on 9 July about the possible “pay off” by Brent to Cara Davani, its Director of HR until June 2015. 

I was promised a reply to my notice on Tuesday, but it actually came today, at 08:47am. In the interests of transparency, I am setting out the full text of the reply from the Chief Legal Officer, and my response to it:-

Dear Mr Grant

I apologise that I was not able to respond yesterday.

I have carefully considered the constituent parts of your deputation request and I have also considered it as a whole and in the context of your previous correspondence on related matters.

The purpose of the deputation procedure is to allow members of the public to address all Members of the Council in relation to Council services or policies etc. The deputation procedure is not intended to be used as a continuation of an on-going complaint or grievance about decisions made by the Council. Further, any attempt to use the deputation procedure in such a way would not be appropriate.

That being the case, it appears to me that your deputation is, in reality, a complaint about how the Council has handled your request for greater transparency. As you remain dissatisfied with the Council’s response to date, I will formally deal with this via our procedures in relation to the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  You will receive a formal response within 20 working days and thereafter you have a route for taking the matter further via the Internal Review process and, ultimately, the Information Commissioner.  This is the appropriate statutory procedure for pursuing your objectives and not the Council’s deputation procedure.

Neither would it be appropriate to use the deputation procedure to complain about the conduct of individual members of staff or other matters relating to their employment, irrespective of their seniority. Consideration of such matters at a Full Council meeting would not achieve your desired objective and would only undermine the obligation of trust and confidence that staff can reasonably expect of the Council as an employer and would be contrary to the Data Protection Act 1998.

Best wishes

Fiona Alderman
Chief Legal Officer, Chief Operating Officer’s Department

I replied to Ms Alderman at 11:03 this morning, as follows:

Dear Ms Alderman,

Thank you for your email this morning. I am disappointed that you have used your discretionary power under Standing Order 39(b) to prevent me from making my Deputation to Full Council on Monday 7 September. I believe you have mis-used that power, in part, at least, because you have allowed previous correspondence on one aspect of my proposed Deputation to cloud your judgement. 
I would ask you to reconsider your decision. Please let me know by close of business tomorrow, Thursday 3 September, whether you will allow my Deputation to go ahead, so that I have ample time to prepare my final text for it.

When the provision for Deputations was introduced into Brent’s Constitution by Full Council, at its meeting on 4 June 2014, the report from your predecessor, Fiona Ledden, said:
‘3.6 (ii) Deputations - It is proposed that Deputations by members of the public be included in the agenda. A maximum period of 15 minutes will be provided in total, with 5 minutes maximum being provided for each speaker. Criteria are established requiring that such deputations relate to a significant matter concerning the borough
 The title of my proposed Deputation is “The importance of high standards of conduct in carrying out the functions of Brent Council”, and it can hardly be claimed that this is not ‘a significant matter concerning the borough’. You are wrong to suggest that this is, ‘in reality’, just an attempt to pursue a single ‘complaint’. I first spoke publicly about concerns which I, and other residents, have had about the conduct of Senior Council Officers in a “soapbox slot” at the Kingsbury & Kenton “Brent Connects” forum in February 2014.
The timing of my request to make this Deputation now is because of the arrival of a new Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, and the window this opens for improvements to be made. I accept that I am also taking the opportunity to use, as an example of the main point I wish to make, the failure by her predecessor to comply with her duty to show openness and accountability in response to my “two questions”. This gives the Council, and its new Chief Executive, the chance to re-commit to high standards of conduct, by answering those questions and by investigating, if necessary, whether there has been a misuse of Council funds.

You have referred several times to my continuing attempts to get answers over the possible “pay off” to Cara Davani as being a ‘complaint’. If I were making a complaint, I would have said so. Neither you nor Christine Gilbert has previously responded to my correspondence on this matter by saying that it would be treated as a complaint under the Council’s complaints procedures, so there is no reason why you should refer to it in that way now. 

Similarly, I see no reason why you should now treat my request for simple “yes” or “no” answers to two questions, which I first put to Brent’s interim Chief Executive on 9 July 2015, as a Freedom of Information Act request. If it was such a request, I would have said so. If you or Christine Gilbert saw it as such a request, then the 20 working days for a response to it has already passed! 

It is as if you have tried to find excuses not to accept my, perfectly valid, notice to make a Deputation to the Full Council meeting on 7 September, rather than accept, at face value, my request to bring a matter of real and serious concern publicly to the attention of the Council, so that it can be discussed and resolved. This matter has been “swept under the carpet” for too long, and it needs to be aired, so that it can be properly dealt with. Brent Council needs to deal with this stain from the past, so that it can move forward, and the arrival of a new Chief Executive is the ideal time to do that. 

I look forward to hearing from you. Best wishes,

Philip Grant.

On past experience, it is unlikely that I will be allowed to present my Deputation to the Full Council meeting at 7pm next Monday evening, 7 September. However, if “Wembley Matters” readers still support my efforts to get the “two questions” about a possible “pay off” to Cara Davani, I would ask again, please, that they email their Ward Councillors, as soon as possible, this time with copies to:  and , to say so. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

It's an absolute disgrace not to allow Phillip to speak at the full council meeting. Perhaps he should consider speaking outside the civic centre & invite the media. Shame on the them!

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh yesterday. On the same day I was blocked from speaking to the Full Council meeting, I received an email inviting me to give a talk at a local Labour Party branch meeting!

However, it was not the Rosemarie Clarke Employment Tribunal case that they would like to hear from me about, but a community local history project I am involved with through Wembley History Society.

Philip Grant.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you can laugh about it, Phillip, as it's truly a farce! Keep up the great work as you will be remembered by those who care about the history and shenanigans in Brent ;)

Martin Francis said...

I have sent this appeal to my ward councillors:

Dear Councillors and Officers,

I am writing to urge you to support Philip Grant's request to make a deputation to Full Council on Monday September 7th.

I know Philip personally and he is a man committed to the highest standards in public life. He does not belong to any political party. His contributions to debate are always measured and well researched. The title of his deputation is one that Brent Council should welcome and support: “The importance of high standards of conduct in carrying out the functions of Brent Council”

The reasons given for refusing the Deputation by the Council's Chief Legal Officer are spurious (it is a part of a 'campaign' and is continuation of a 'complaint or grievance') and her decision to treat it as an FoI request high-handed if not a misuse of her powers under the Constitution.

Allowing a dignified deputation by a man of principle who is a respected local resident would provide an opportunity for the Council, after a particularly difficult period, to indicate its commitment to the highest standards of conduct by the Council as it moves forward under a new Chief Executive.

Martin Francis

Anonymous said...

Has any information come to light yet? 20 working days aren't up in the spirit of efficiency has any information come to light? Has Ms Davani had her hearing and who represented her? What was the outcome?