Thursday 24 March 2016

Brent officers propose removal of councillors from Independent Person interview process

The issue of the Independent Person/s who take part in the process of complaints against Council members  has been discussed on this blog  (See LINK including comments) and new appointments were due to be made this week.

However  Mildred Phillips, current Director of Human Resources, has made a recommendation to the General Purposes Committee for a change in the interview procedure:
On 16 December 2015, the Committee, amongst other things, approved the recruitment process for the appointment of new Independent Persons. It was proposed that the role be advertised and thereafter the Director Human Resources, the Leader and the lead Member for HR matters (i.e. the Deputy Leader) short-list applicants, conduct interviews and to recommend appointments to Full Council for approval. 

Subsequently, on 19 February 2016, the vacancies were advertised and the closing
 date for applications was 13 March 2016. The next stage therefore is to short-list and interview suitable candidates.   

On reflection, having regard to the dual role of the Independent Person (i.e. to give views in the context of Member code of conduct complaints and the dismissal of certain statutory officers) as well as the fact that the appointments have to be approved by Full Council, it is proposed that the shortlisting and interviews be conducted by officers only. Namely, the Director Human Resources, together with two Strategic Directors.
As this report does not go to the General Purposes Committee until March 31st the appointment will be delayed.  Councillors Butt and Pavey are members of the General Purposes Committeee along with some other members of the Cabinet and Cllr Kasangra (Conservative).

Meanwhile this afternoon interviews are being held for the post of Director of Human Resources. The Panel consists of Cllrs Butt, Pavey, Hirani, Mashari from the Cabinet and Cllr Kasangra (Conservative)



Philip Grant said...

One minor correction, Martin - the Independent Persons do not sit on Standards Committee [unlike Independent Member(s)], they are (or are meant to be) part of the process of considering complaints against Council members, and now also complaints against Senior Council Officers.

This intervention by Mildred Phillips raises some interesting questions, including "WHY?"

She had (as interim Director of HR) suggested to General Purposes Committee, last December, that they adopt short-listing and interviews by herself and Cllrs Butt and Pavey for the vacant (since May 2014!) Independent Person posts. G.P Committee voted to accept that proposal, which should then have been implemented.

The process has already been delayed, as Ms Phillips failed to advertise the posts in January 2016, as promised (and did not do so until late February), but the short-listing was supposed to have been done in the w/c 13 March, with interviews this week. Now short-listing will be delayed further, until after the G.P Committee meeting on 31 March.

I wonder whether this latest move has come about so that Cllr Butt and/or Cllr Pavey can be seen to be "at arms length" from the recruitment process? Perhaps one or more of the applicants is known to them? (I can confirm that I did NOT apply).

However, no one can be appointed as an Independent Person until their appointment has been approved by Full Council (next meeting in May 2016). The relevant legislation states:

' a person may not be appointed under the provision required by sub-section (7) [of Section 28, Localism Act 2011] unless—

(i) the vacancy for an independent person has been advertised in such manner as the authority considers is likely to bring it to the attention of the public,

(ii) the person has submitted an application to fill the vacancy to the authority, and

(iii) the person’s appointment has been approved by a majority of the members of the authority.’

Interestingly, the legislation does not actually require any interviews to be carried out - it would be possible for Full Council to be presented with a list of all the applicants who met the necessary requirements, and for them to be allowed to appoint, by a majority vote, whoever they wished!


Martin Francis said...

Thanks for your correction and clarification Philip. I have amended the main story.

Philip Grant said...

By coincidence (?), as well as recruiting Independent Persons for Standards purposes, a report (by the Monitoring Officer, Fiona Alderman) to the Standards Committee meeting on 21 March recommended increasing the number of Independent Members on that committee from one to three (at an extra cost of 2 x £423 a year in allowances for them).

Ms Alderman makes what appears to be a very good case for more Independent Members on the committee:

'The role of the Independent Member strengthens the Council’s corporate governance arrangements and, in particular, adds greater objectivity and legitimacy to decision making. Independent Members provide an independent and external perspective on Member conduct and standards issues in relation to setting standards for Members’ conduct and enforcing those standards in the event of a complaint.'

However, under the Monitoring Officer's current practices, having additional Independent Members would be "window dressing", as for the past two years no complaints against Members have actually been referred to Standards Committee!

She appears to have gone out of her way to ensure that allegations of misconduct by councillors are treated as if they could not possibly fall within the scope of Brent's Members' Code of Conduct, so that she can claim that they do not need to be referred, and therefore made public. [See my open letter to Carolyn Downs of 27 November 2015 at: ]

As one (Labour) councillor put it to me recently:

'If you get on the wrong side of Ms Alderman (or her bosses) and someone makes a complaint, you may be in trouble - otherwise you are as safe as houses.'

Like Independent Persons, any new Independent Members of Standards Committee would have to be approved by Full Council - but how would they be chosen? Ms Alderman's recommendation was that if Standards Committee agree to increase the numbers:

'the recruitment process will commence as soon as possible. It is proposed that the Chief Executive, Monitoring Officer and Chair of the Standards Committee short-list suitable candidates for interview and make recommendations to the Full Council.'

So, can we look forward to stronger governance on Standards at Brent Council, with 'greater objectivity and legitimacy in decision making'? I will believe it when (or if) I see it happening in practice!