Sunday 15 January 2017

More questions than answers at Brent Council on school expansions and Bridge Park

I drew attention recently to the blackout on the apparent problems with some current Brent school expansion projects that the public have not been allowed to hear about. LINK

Information was withheld at the Cabinet meeting and the decision made in private session and now councillors have been told that the public will have to be excluded if the issue is raised at Full Council on January 23rd.

The issue is possibly about three current expansion projects at Byron Court Primary,  Stonebridge Primary and Elsley Primary schools. It is likely that the price agreed on the projects with contractors has not been viable and the Council is either left with having to pay out more or downgrading the designs.

The accountability issue is whether there was any fault by either side on the procurement of these works and at what financial or quality cost.

Item 9 is about decisions taken by the Leader and/or Cabinet because of their urgency before before Full Council.

Apart from the IT items clearly the Bridge Park Conditional Land Sale Agreement is important.  This involves Brent Council working with development companies registered in off-shore as covered on Wembley Matters LINK.

It is not entirely clear whether Full Council will be able to discuss this as the note above states, 'The matters before the Council are merely for reporting by the Leader of the Council.' Will the public me excluded from any discussion on this as well?


Unknown said...

I hope the public are following this...I really implore people to follow this...because it stinks

Anonymous said...

Yes doesn't it.

Anonymous said...

We can only hope that the Byron Court expansion is stopped. Parents of pupils plus the local residents have opposed this from the start. The Planning Committee meeting when the application was approved was a complete farce. Many who attended the meeting believed it was a done deal especially when the Headteacher, with her team, was ushered out of the meeting through an area used only by Council members.

Anonymous said...

How will the public know if there were accountability issues and faults made during the procurement process, if all meetings are subject to a blackout with the public excluded from meetings. Does someone smell a rat again? The whole history of the proposed Byron Court School Expansion has appeared a done deal right from the outset, with the Council just going through the motions. All this to make it appear that local residents and parents had been fully consulted and given an opportunity to influence the process. As we know to our cost, this was far from reality. From the very start it was apparent that this scheme didn't stack up on the stated level of pupil demand or a construction logistical level. How was this contract procured? What was the level of tendering competition? Something else hidden away from public view. Who in Brent was responsible for verifying the "successful" tender before awarding the work to the successful contractor, who as it turned out failed to comply with agreed trafficking routes through the very congested and narrow roads of the Sudbury Court Estate during early enablement works. There are many questions to be answered but the doors are closed tight and sound proofed. Nothing to hide?

Anonymous said...

Brent Council has more secrets than Bletchley Park. Shame I won't be around in 30 years time when it all comes out; if it ever does. What an enigma.

Philip Grant said...

Will the Full Council meeting next Monday be allowed to discuss these matters openly, and in public?

The extract shown by Martin in his blog says that (my block capitals): 'If Council wishes to discuss the specifics of the Phase 3 Primary School Expansion Programme, then the Mayor MAY deem it necessary for Council to resolve to exclude members of the press and public ...'

The Mayor (currently Cllr. Parvez Ahmed, with Cllr. Bhagwanji Chohan as his deputy) has a great deal of power as Chair of Council meetings, and he is supposed to use it independently of any party political pressures. I hope that he will, and that backbench councillors across the Council will encourage him to do so in the best interests of openness and transparency.

Unfortunately, there have been occasions in recent years when a Mayor has bowed to pressure from his party Leader, and made a decision which was detrimental to good and open government. One such example was when Martin asked to speak as a "Deputation" to the Full Council meeting in September 2014 about the appointment of a Permanent Chief Executive (which was overdue). Because Brent's Legal Director had, unfairly, refused his request, I wrote to the then Mayor (Cllr. Kana Naheerathan) three days before the meeting, pointing out the unfairness, and that he as Mayor could intervene, saying: 'I hope that you, as chair of the meeting and a democrat, will allow him to speak.'

As Martin reported in a blog the day after the meeting: 'Seconds before the meeting Muhammed Butt, leader of the Council, came over and took me aside to say he couldn't allow me to speak but he would address my 'question' in his report to the Council.'

When the "Deputations" item (for which 20 minutes were allowed in the timetable) came up on the Full Council agenda, the Mayor simply said: 'There are no deputations.' Cllr. Butt later told the meeting that Christine Gilbert would be remaining as interim Chief Executive until some time 'in the New Year' (2015).

The Council Leader had no legal authority to extend her term in office (Full Council's approval for which had run out in June 2014). If a Permanent Chief Executive had been appointed in 2014, we would not have had the scandal of the £157,610 "pay-off" to Cara Davani, which is now the subject of five objections by local electors to Brent's auditor against the Council's 2015/16 accounts.

Surely it is better for our elected representatives to be open and transparent about the decisions they make, rather than trying to hide things from proper scrutiny, and making costly mistakes which could have been avoided?