Monday 26 June 2017

Carolyn Downs intervenes on request for special post-Grenfell Brent Council meeting.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster one of the major lessons must surely be that councils should listen to their residents and their actions should be transparent.

The Council's Chief Executive Officer, Carolyn Downs,  has intervened in Cllr Duffy's attempt to have a Special Full Council Meeting on July 3rd on  the issue of fire safety in Brent's high-rise blocks.

She has written to the Mayor, who makes decisions on Special Meetings, to give her advice:
Dear Mr Mayor

I am writing to give you my advice regarding the request for an extraordinary/special council meeting.

Firstly the request was made last night by Cllr Duffy and to date I and other officers have seen confirmation by email from Councillors Warren, Stopp and Pavey. This as it stands is not enough. 

According to the legal and constitutional rules, a special meeting can be called by the Mayor.  Alternatively, a requisition signed by 5 councillors can be presented to the Mayor. If a special meeting is not called by the Mayor within 7 days, the requisition itself will trigger a extraordinary meeting. A requisition need not be sent to the mayor personally. It can be sent to Tom Cattermole, the Head of Executive and Member Services. 

The constitution further requires that any requisition must be accompanied by notice of the motion or motions to be debated at the meeting. We have received a motion from Cllr Duffy. 

This means that even if a valid requisition is received today then the mayor has 7 days to decide whether to call the meeting. If you took seven days then the earliest possible date for a special meeting of the council would be 13/7/17.

If you were to agree today then 5 clear working days will be needed before the meeting can be held and so the earliest it could be held is 4/7/17. Our next scheduled Council meeting is 10/7/17.

The reason we held a member drop in session last week was to enable members to answer road by road and block by block questions with the relevant officers present as this is a very technical matter. 11 members attended of which 2 were Cabinet members. Cabinet were briefed additionally and Cllr Shahzad arranged a separate briefing for himself. 

We will need to ensure that a discussion at a full council meeting is managed to ensure that it does not cause additional anxiety for residents in the Borough. We need to ensure that we retain the calm and professional environment in which the council, the fire brigade and other registered providers are managing this situation. We also need to ensure that information is shared in a way in which the public can understand it. Last week's member briefing and our web site give relevant information.   I believe that our council has responded well locally alongside putting c30 officers into the response to Grenfell Tower.

This is a very important topic and all members will no doubt wish to be present at the Council meeting that discusses it and for the sake of 3 working days it is surely appropriate to have the discussion on a date that has been in all members‘ diaries for some time.

My suggestion to you is that we hold another drop in session for councillors followed by a collective discussion of a less technical and more tactical and policy nature. I also suggest that officers write all of this up and make it publicly available as a part of the papers for the full council meeting. We can do this later this week or on 3/7/17 when I know a lot of Councillors have a group meeting arranged anyway. 

We can then have a major discussion at our programmed full council meeting based on the facts and a report circulated in advance.  We have, in the past, had back bench sponsored debates and we could, with the agreement of members, suspend the rules around those to enable a fuller and longer discussion, have a panel of technical officers available for any questions and also ensure that Councillors are able to take a full part in the discussion for as long as is necessary. I would ensure relevant officer and also seek Fire Brigade attendance. 

Clearly the decision to have the meeting before the 10/07/17  is your decision but I thought it transparent to share with all Councillors my advice to you.  I hope no-one will see this advice as being unhelpful and obstructive. It is intended to be quite the opposite. 

If you do agree to an earlier and special council meeting with the revised motion proposed by Cllr Duffy I still think it important that officers prepare a full report in advance, that we invite the fire brigade and technical officers and that we hold another drop in session to give members the opportunity to ask detailed and technical questions in advance. 

Yours ever


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Copying the above letter text and pasting it into a word processor reveals a word count of 741 words and my understanding of the council CEO's message in a 'Plain English' sort of sense diminished with every word.

Perhaps that is its purpose: to make the message so difficult to follow that the reader cannot clearly argue back?

Alan Wheatley