Tuesday 28 September 2021

Lone Brent Lib Dem councillor resigns from Budget Scrutiny citing 'serious concerns about the way in which elected members’ wishes, actions and agreed work direction have been blocked ' by senior Brent officers

In a surprise announcement the only Liberal Democrat on Brent Council has resigned from the Budget Scrutiny Taskforce. Cllr Anton Georgiou said, " With regret, I have decided to resign [] following serious concerns about the way in which elected members’ wishes, actions and agreed work direction have been blocked by senior officers at Brent Council."

The resignation comes after last year's skirmishes with Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt over Georgiou's attempt to put forward alternative ideas for the 2020-21 budget which Butt denounced as ill-informed. LINK

It appeared that his inclusion in this year's Task Force would enable Cllr Georgiou to make a contribution early in the process but he now feels that the Task Force has been rendered powerless and the different roles of officers and councillors blurred.

Statement in full

In Local Authorities, where the governing party has such a large majority, it is crucial that there are ways in which councillors from different parties can come together to provide thorough and detailed scrutiny and that there is maximum transparency over decisions, spending and service delivery.

No one party, or group of people have a monopoly on good ideas and policy, which is why it is critical we hold decision makers to account at every step of the way - especially when it comes to decisions around spending taxpayers money.

With regret, I have decided to resign from the Budget Scrutiny Taskforce, following serious concerns about the way in which elected members’ wishes, actions and agreed work direction have been blocked by senior officers at Brent Council.

It is my view that democratic scrutiny in Brent is being curtailed and undermined by those who it exists to hold to account.

Recent actions by senior officers suggest a contempt for scrutiny which makes it hard for effective scrutiny to take place in our borough. I believe challenge, disagreement and independence of thought and action are discouraged by those who hold the most power within the organisation.

It is crucial to define the different roles elected members and officers should be playing in the scrutiny process. In Brent I have seen that lines are too often blurred which results in elected members not being able to carry out key parts of our responsibilities, that we are elected by residents to do.

My decision to resign from the Taskforce comes following interventions by senior officers, including the Chief Executive, which put pressure on elected members to redefine an already agreed to work programme of the Budget Scrutiny Taskforce. This work programme had been democratically agreed to by councillors, with officers present.

At the insistence of senior officers, public engagement with the Budget Scrutiny process has now been taken off the table completely - which makes me feel deeply uneasy and raises a number of serious questions.

The decision to redefine the remit of the group in this way will effectively render it powerless. The outcomes will likely be limited and recommendations made will make no difference to the budget that will ultimately be rubber stamped by Labour Councillors at Full Council early next year.

I will continue to work with others who share the view that effective and rigorous scrutiny is essential in our borough. I sadly believe that there is an endemic problem with the way scrutiny is understood and respected by those at the top of the organisation.

Brent Council consists of 59 Labour councillors (one who has the whip withdrawn), 3 Tories and one Liberal Democrat.



Anonymous said...

Scrutiny in Brent, don't be silly, it is not allowed in Brent, we all know that.

Philip Grant said...

Anton's experience reflects what I have seen in recent years, when I have attended meetings at the Civic Centre or watched/taken part in them online.

Too often it seems that the decisions have already been taken, by a few councillors in conjunction with senior officers, before the meeting actually takes place. The meeting itself seems to be just for show, with anything said at it by backbench councillors, or members of the public, ignored.

That's my view - if you disagree and have examples that contradict it, or agree and have had experiences that reinforce it, please add a comment yourself!