Monday 10 October 2016

Stronger Communities post won't be filled: the repercussions

Information is sparse but I understand that there will be no immediate appointment made to Brent Cabinet to the lead member for Stronger Communities post made vacant by the resignation of Cllr Michael Pavey LINK.  Instead there will be a review of the post/Cabinet.

I had heard that there was a dispute within the Labour Group about whether the appointment should be made by Council Leader Muhammed Butt or voted on by the whole group.

The review sidesteps this issue in the wake of what was described as a group meeting that gave Butt 'a hard time' last week.

It is unclear whether Butt will manage the post in the interim as he did when the Environmentl lead was vacated by Cllr Keith Perrin, before later making his own appointment.

The failure to appoint puts power into the hands of a smaller loyalist Cabinet cabal and avoids Butt having to cope with an independently minded lead member elected by the group. 

The post is quite sensitive at the moment with ongoing negotiations over the volunteer Preston Library Hub LINK and the development of a Community Library Strategy and controversy over Brent Council's implementation of the Prevent Strategy LINK.

The development may affect Preston Library where there was a tension between Brent Council wanting to dispose of its assets at maximum profit and its stated commitment to enabling community groups to have a secure base from which to carry out their activities.


Anonymous said...

Cllr Pavey's resignation letter includes the words:

"I think it is clear that the Leader and myself have developed differing views regarding how Brent Council can best serve its residents at a time of brutal Tory cuts."

I would imagine that Cllr Pavey's reaction to a resident's DWP interview may well have given the former Stronger Communities post-holder a far greater sense of the brutality of the Tory cuts than he had when he took up the post.

Yet there is sensitising personal experience and there is pre-disposition to supporting vulnerable people. I cannot currently imagine the current Brent Council Leader bringing himself to a resident's DWP interview, or the resident trusting the current Brent Council Leader as their ally, can you?

Alan Wheatley

Philip Grant said...

I agree that this is a worrying development, at a time when there are a number of important “Stronger Communities” issues to be dealt with. A review would just be a smokescreen, to mask an unnecessary delay in filling the vacant Lead Member role.

I am, however, known for reminding people about the rules set out in Brent’s Constitution (which too often are ignored, when it suits those in power to do so), and in this case I have to say that Cllr. Butt is acting within his constitutional rights as Leader of the Council, although I am not in a position to say whether the procedures of Brent’s Labour Group would restrict his rights over who should be appointed to Cabinet. (This seems to be a problem too, for the PLP, over appointments to the Shadow Cabinet!)

For anyone interested in the detailed reasons why, on this occasion, I believe that Cllr. Butt is acting within his rights, here are the relevant extracts from Part 2, Article 7, of Brent’s Constitution:-

‘7.2 The Cabinet will consist of the Leader, with such other number of councillors (being not less than 2 or more than 9) as the Leader may appoint.’

‘7.8 The Leader will appoint between two and nine members to the Cabinet and shall notify the Head of Executive and Member Services of those appointments.’

‘7.11 Portfolio responsibilities of the Cabinet members are determined by the Leader. These portfolios provide the members of the Cabinet with responsibility for setting the direction and being accountable for the operation of the services or functions comprised within their respective portfolios. The Leader agrees to provide details of the portfolios allocated to the Cabinet members to the Head of Executive and Member Services and those details shall be provided to Full Council.’

‘7.16 The Leader has agreed that appointments to and/or removal of members of the Cabinet and the appointment and or removal of Deputy Leader shall only be effective upon receipt of written notice to that effect by the Head of Executive and Member Services.’

‘7.18 If at any time a Cabinet member other than the Leader or Deputy Leader ceases to be a member of the Cabinet, the responsibilities of that member shall revert to the Leader until such time as the Leader shall have appointed a replacement, or, where appropriate, re- appointed the member concerned.’


Nan. said...

Scrupulously fair as ever, Philip.

It is clearly in the council leader's range of responsibility to appoint his cabinet, or indeed to choose to open up appointments to election by the elected (party) councillor cohort.

Constant bickering and personal backbiting amongst Labour group members totally detracts from their collective role in scrutinising the public administrative element of implementing council policy. Thus factions, cliques and internal intrigue take up the energy that should rightly be devoted to the public interest.

Of course it is very demotivating for backbench councillors to be relegated to having no input into, or influence over, policy formulation and the overview of implementation.

A simple way to address this would be for groups of councillors to be assigned to each portfolio and then for each group to be 'refreshed' by a system of staggered, periodical movement ensuring the development of a range of experience and greater understanding of the knock-on effect of one area of service uopn another and of how to join up services more effectively.

Well, it's just a thought...........

Philip Grant said...

Part 1:-

In my earlier comment, I explained why I believe that Cllr. Butt is within his rights, under Brent’s Constitution, not to appoint a new Lead Member for Stronger Communities straight away, but to take on the responsibilities of that role in addition to his role as Leader. This does not mean that I believe it is the right (i.e. correct) thing for him to do. Overall, I believe that Cllr. Butt has too much power, and some of it is a result of an abuse of Brent Council’s Constitution.

That Constitution (in its own words) ‘…sets out how the Council operates, how decisions are made and the procedures which are followed to ensure that decision making is efficient, transparent and accountable to local people. Some of the procedures are required by law, while others are a matter for the Council. The Constitution is divided into 8 Parts. …. In particular, Parts 3 and 4 set out the rules governing the conduct of the Council’s business and which part of the Council is responsible for various functions.’

“Responsibility for Functions” is an important area, which should mean that there are “checks and balances” to ensure that power is shared across the Council, so that no single person or group within it has too much (to guard against that power being abused). The Constitution gives the Leader, or the Leader together with the Cabinet, considerable powers, but there are also ‘functions which cannot be exercised by the Cabinet’, ‘functions not to be the sole responsibility of the Cabinet’ and ‘functions that may only be exercised by Full Council’.

One area of particular concern is the General Purposes Committee, which ‘carries out a number of functions on which the Cabinet cannot take decisions, including public rights of way, setting the Council Tax base and approving staffing matters’. The committee has eight members, and the Constitution used to say that at least one of these must be a member of the Executive (the previous title for the Cabinet). That proviso, which gave a very strong hint that most of the committee should be made up of back-bench councillors, has been removed, and for the past few years seven of the eight members have been Cabinet members, with the official Opposition Leader as the eighth.


Philip Grant said...

PART 2:-

Cllr. Butt is Chair of the General Purposes Committee, and of its Senior Staff Appointments Sub-Committee. This has given him considerable influence over the Council’s senior staffing structure, who is appointed to the Senior Officer posts, and the terms on which they are appointed. There are suspicions that, during the time that Christine Gilbert was interim Chief Executive and Cara Davani was HR Director, the Leader of the Council may have been complicit in some of their alleged misconduct over staffing matters.

The appointment of the Council’s Head of Paid Service (Chief Executive) is one of the functions which can only be exercised by Full Council, and not by the Cabinet or the Leader. Despite this, Cllr. Butt was able to appoint Christine Gilbert in September 2012 as ‘interim Chief Executive’, supposedly for a few months while the Council advertised for and appointed a permanent Chief Executive. In June 2013, Full Council was asked to extend Christine Gilbert’s role as interim Chief Executive – it agreed to do so, but only for a FIXED TERM which should have ended in June 2014.

The permanent post was still not advertised, and at the meeting in September 2014, Cllr. Butt extended Christine Gilbert’s tenure (eventually until September 2015) without seeking the consent of Full Council. The minutes recorded:
‘The Leader referred to the decision taken in June 2013 regarding the appointment of a new Chief Executive. He stated that the external auditors were reporting back on how the Council was operating and whilst there was progress being made, stability within the Council would enable further progress to be made. The current arrangements would therefore remain in place until a recruitment process began in the new year which would tie in with the launch of the new Borough Plan.’

Does Cllr. Butt have too much power? I would suggest that he does, and that the Council’s Constitutional Working Group, chaired by its properly appointed Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, should consider ways to ensure that the functions of the General Purposes Committee and its sub-committees are carried out independently of the Council Leader and the Cabinet.

Philip Grant.

Philip Grant said...


The discussion on my two-part comment above continues, posted by Martin as a separate "guest blog" on 11 October. Please join in with a comment there if you have something to say, either for or against my suggestion that Cllr. Butt has too much power.