A guest post by Philip Grant-->
A recent blog LINK published the Council Leader’s reply to questions raised by Cllr. Warren about meetings Cllr. Butt had with a developer, as disclosed by a Brent Council Freedom of Information Act (FoI) response.
Cllr. Butt claimed that the FoI response about meetings in April and May 2017 was ‘an error’, and that these meetings took place ‘at least a year earlier’. If his claim is correct, one or more Council officers have been incompetent, at best, and the confidence that residents should be able to have in the reliability of Brent’s FoI system is undermined.
Carolyn Downs, as Brent’s Chief Executive, is responsible for ensuring that the Council delivers its services efficiently. She also has a responsibility to defend her staff, if they have been wrongly criticised. This is the text of an email I have sent to her, in order to establish the facts:
Leader's meetings FoI response - True or False?
Dear Ms Downs,
Further to our recent correspondence over the local newspaper article on 23 November, "Why did leader meet developers?" the text of Cllr. Warren's questions to Cllr. Butt arising from it, and the Council Leader's reply, are in the public domain - see LINK; I am writing to you to request your urgent action on, and reply to, the serious concern raised by this statement in his reply by Cllr. Butt:'An error was made in responding to the FOI on which your questions are based. The meetings to which you refer occurred at least a year earlier than reported.'The 'FOI' referred to was issued by Brent Council on 31 October 2017, with the reference: 8353800, and the copy of it which I have seen is embedded as a document in a blog article at LINK.The reply from Cllr. Butt quoted above is scarcely credible, and I have said so publicly in a comment which explains why I believe that is the case. I attach a copy of the text of that comment, for your information, and that of Cllrs. Butt and Warren, and your Chief Legal Officer, Debra Norman, to whom I am copying this email.Cllr. Butt has claimed that a Brent Council officer has issued an incorrect response to a Freedom of Information Act request. I am asking you, as Brent's Chief Executive, and Head of Paid Service, whether that claim is true or false.The FoI letter of 31 October was quite clear. In response to the request:'Please provide details including the date, time, location, attendees, and minutes (if taken) of any meetings between any Brent Councillor(s) and any representative(s) of the following organisations, between 2012 and now: A. R55 (Developers) B. Colliers International C. HKDD Properties Ltd. D. SF Planning Limited.'the information given was:'In terms of meetings between councillors and any of the organisations listed the only ones I am able to confirm as having taken place are as follows:· Wednesday 5 April 2017 10:30-11:30am – Councillor Butt (Leader of the Council) met with representatives from Terrapin Communications and their client R55. This meeting was also attended by Amar Dave (Strategic Director – Environment & Regeneration) and Aktar Choudhury (Operational Director – Regeneration).· Tuesday 23 May 2017 10:15-11:15am – Councillor Butt (Leader of the Council) and Councillor Tatler (Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Growth, Employment and Skills) met with representatives from Colliers International. This meeting was also attended by Amar Dave (Strategic Director – Environment & Regeneration).No minutes were produced for either of these meetings.'In view of the details given of dates, times and attendees, (and there being no record of any other such meetings with the organisations listed in the FoI request since 2012), this information must have been researched by reference to at least some of the people who attended the meetings detailed, and their diaries. Yet Cllr. Butt now claims that the meetings listed did not take place, or that if they did, they 'occurred at least a year earlier than reported' in the Council's FoI response.I would ask that you, or a trusted colleague, should check personally:with the officer or officers responsible for issuing the FoI response (ref: 8353800) of 31 October 2017 as to the source(s) of the information which gave rise to that response, and whether you consider the information given in that response to be reliable and correct
· with your senior officers, Amar Dave and Aktar Choudhury, and obtain from them details (including date, time and persons present) of any meetings which they have held with the developers R55, or any of their representatives, at which Cllr. Butt was also present, and for any notes made of discussions at those meetings.I would then ask that you make those details publicly available, so that concerned local people, and the press and blog site which have reported this matter, can know what confidence they can have in the accuracy of Brent Council's handling of Freedom of Information Act requests.Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you at an early date. Best wishes,Philip Grant.
When I receive a reply, I will make it publicly available, as I believe it is important for this “True or False?” question to be resolved openly and transparently.
If you are wondering why it matters when the meetings took place, here is my answer.
· If the meetings ‘occurred at least a year earlier than reported’, that would be before the developer, R55, submitted its planning application for the Minavil House site. Cllr. Butt’s explanation that the ‘meetings were to discuss much needed inward investment and the building of essential new homes’ could be a reasonable one (even though notes should still have been taken of the points discussed, in line with the LGA guidelines).
· If the meetings took place in April and May 2017, with the last of them the day before R55’s application was approved by Planning Committee, then Cllr. Butt may well have misled Cllr. Warren, the Council and the people of Brent. If that proves to be the case, the public can rightly be concerned that he may be trying to cover-up what happened at those meetings (at which notes should have been taken under the LGA’s guidance on “Probity in Planning for councillors and officers”).