Saturday 20 May 2023

Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt accused of having Scrutiny chairs 'in his pocket'

The Annual Meeting of Brent Council which had proceeded with its ceremonies as expected burst into life this week when it considered a Liberal Democrat amendment to the Council Constitution based on their interpretation of the 2017 recommendations of the  House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee on 'Effectiveness of local authority overview and scrutiny committees '(Extract above) Link to full report.
Cllr Georgiou moving the amendment said that that there needed be a real and visible indpendent role for scrutiny and proposed that Scrutiny Committe recommendations should be discussed at Full Council, rather just Cabinet. Further, the Liberal Democrats felt that just having two scrutiny committees, unlike some other councils, meant that their agenda were too packed for effective scrutiny. They proposed a further 3 scrutiny committes to spread the load and make scrutiny more effective. Given the political makeup of the council 3 should be chaired by Labour councillors and the other 2 by a Liberal Democrat and a Conservative  councillor. The leader of the Conservative group backed the call.


Responding, Brent Council leader Cllr Muhammed Butt said that this was a Labour Council chosen by the people of Brent. Gesturing to his Labour colleagues he said that on his side of the chamber 'we have the people's choice', and went on:

I have two great Scrutiny Chairs who are doing a superb job...we have no need to make any changes.

The Liberal Democrats had not taken account of the expense and officer time need for 3 more committees when there were financial constraints. The Labour Group would oppose the amendment.

Exercising the Lib Dem's right of reply Cllr Paul Lorber said:
Thank you for the advert for democracy in the borough.
He then jumped on the possessive ' I ' that Butt had used and asked, 'Are they [scrutiny chairs] excellent because they are independent or because they are in your pocket? Which is it Cllr Butt?'

Addressing all the councillors he said that non-executive councillors all had a responsibility to ensure there was effective scrutiny:

If the leader of this council has 'my' chairs of scrutiny in his pocket there can be no confidence that the scrutiny process is independent and fair because of the words he used. Because of the words of the leader we now know that scrutiny is a rubber stamping of everything, a 'yes' to everything and no effective scrutiny.
Cllr Miller raised a point of order asking that the Mayor (chairing her first council meeting)  should make Cllr Lorber apologise for his 'unparliamentary' language but this was ruled out on a technicality by the council's legal advisor.
Cllr Kelcher, chair of the planning committee, raising another point of order/information said that the chairs of scrutiny were elected  within the Labour Group on a vote that excluded members of the executive. Therefore a misleading picture had been painted about their independence.
The motion was put to the meeting and lost with as far as I could see only Lib Dem and Conservative councillors voting for it.
A  futher Lib Dem amendment on  the 6 Brent Connects area suggested that Wembley being much larger that the two others should be split into 2.  In addition, reflecting the  political representation in the areas that one of the Wembley areas should be chaired by a Lib Dem councillor and the kingsbury and Kenton by a Conservative councillor.

That amendment was also lost so the 5 Brent Connect areas remain chaired by Labour councillors.
 Extracts from the House of Commons Report (LINK)

We have found that the most significant factor in determining whether or not scrutiny committees are effective is the organisational culture of a particular council. Having a positive culture where it is universally recognised that scrutiny can play a productive part in the decision-making process is vital and such an approach is common in all of the examples of effective scrutiny that we identified. Senior councillors from both the administration and the opposition, and senior council officers, have a responsibility to set the tone and create an environment that welcomes constructive challenge and democratic accountability. When this does not happen and individuals seek to marginalise scrutiny, there is a risk of damaging the council’s reputation, and missing opportunities to use scrutiny to improve service outcomes. In extreme cases, ineffective scrutiny can contribute to severe service failures.

Our inquiry has identified a number of ways that establishing a positive culture can be made easier. For example, in many authorities, there is no parity of esteem between the executive and scrutiny functions, with a common perception among both members and officers being that the former is more important than the latter. We argue that this relationship should be more balanced and that in order to do so, scrutiny should have a greater independence from the executive. One way that this can be achieved is to change the lines of accountability, with scrutiny committees reporting to Full Council meetings, rather than the executive. We also consider how scrutiny committee chairs might have greater independence in order to dispel any suggestion that they are influenced by partisan motivations. Whilst we believe that there are many effective and impartial scrutiny chairs working across the country, we are concerned that how chairs are appointed can have the potential to contribute to lessening the independence and legitimacy of the scrutiny process.


The Centre for Public Scrutiny states that:

Legally, the Chairing and membership of overview and scrutiny committees is a matter for a council’s Annual General Meeting in May. Practically, Chairing in particular is entirely at the discretion of the majority party.

Majority parties can, if they wish, reserve all committee chairships (and vicechairships) to themselves ... the practice of reserving all positions of responsibility to the majority party is something which usually happens by default, and can harm perceptions of scrutiny’s credibility and impartiality.


Chairs from a majority party that are effectively appointed by their executive are just as capable at delivering impartial and effective scrutiny as an opposition councillor, but we have concerns that sometimes chairs can be chosen so as to cause as little disruption as possible for their Leaders. It is vital that the role of scrutiny chair is respected and viewed by all as being a key part of the decision-making process, rather than as a form of political patronage.


Newcastle City Council where all scrutiny chairs are opposition party members, states that:

This has taken place under administrations of different parties and we believe that it adds to the clout, effectiveness and independence of the scrutiny process; it gives opposition parties a formally-recognised role in the decision-making process of the authority as a whole, more effective access to officers, and arguably better uses their skills and expertise for the
benefit of the council.



Anonymous said...

Our Councillor Butt is looking more and more like a spoilt brat and playground bully. His leadership is looking more and more in decline as his arguments hold less and less water, a bit like wealdstone Brook and the River Brent, filling with more and more .... and boy oh boy, doesn't it smell

Anonymous said...

Some Labour councillors, and not new ones you might add, most obviously need the meaning of 'point of order' explaining to them. After 9 years they still don't know what they are doing!

Anonymous said...

A few days ago Martin published the Labour Party Accounts showing the close to £100,000 p.a. share the Labour Party in Brent gets out of the over £1 million Brent Council pays out in Councillor allowances.

Power and patronage lies in the hands of the Labour Leader who has a record of removing Councillors who pose the tiniest of challenges to him.

Money for Labour coffers is one reason why Labour take the chairs of all committees including Scrutiny and even all the Consultative Forums. The power of patronage means that Labour Councillors toe the line fearful of Cllr Butt's anger and removal from a PAID position.

Councillor Butt's performance at the AGM (and his obvious ignorance of what independent scrutiny of his (Brent has a Leader's model) decision making simply represent the arrogance of a not very bright man.

It is of course the reputation of Brent that suffers when such an unsuitable person is handed a position clearly beyond his abilities. Incompetence and corruption is the inevitable result.

Anonymous said...

Cllr Miller is so pathetic tone policing

Anonymous said...

Can somebody please put the Leader of Brent Council on a course for Public speaking, as er, umm, but but but, every other word proves he is absolutely rubbish. The diction, and pronunciation by some members is an abomination to the English Language.

Anonymous said...

If there was an Olympic Medal for BS, then Butt would be a World Class winner. He ums and err's because he is unsure of what he's talking about, and clearly in a position above his pay grade. Out of his depth and rowing up Schitts Creek the wrong way without a paddle.

Watching the new lady Mayor bumble her way through proceedings, constantly being prompted and coaxed as to what to say, was also embarrassing to watch. She too could probably do with some extra tuition on how to fulfil her role.

Anonymous said...

Why are you referring to her as the 'lady Mayor'? Isn't she just The Mayor same as any male Mayor would be???

The previous mayor was no better - how do they get voted in?

Anonymous said...

It's patronage for their votes, ie. I'll keep you in power if you let me be Mayor

Anonymous said...

The Council is now so incestuous, yet the Labour supporting dimwits keep voting them in. If you want change then do the right thing come voting day.

Anonymous said...

Trouble is local people vote in local elections based on national issues - what happens in Parliament is nothing to do with what happens in Brent.

You should vote in local elections based on whether you think your local council is being properly run, things like whether dangerous potholes are repaired, whether flytippers are caught etc!