Friday 19 April 2024

Shocking figures on cuts to schools' essential staff and activities

 

With the local spotlight on primary schools in the light of the Byron Court Primary issue and many of our schools in budget dseficit it is worth reading this statement from the National Education Union:

Commenting on a Sutton Trust survey of school leaders which finds primary schools hit hardest by funding pressures, Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

Primary schools play a critical role in the education journey of young people, but their hands are being tied by real-terms funding cuts. It is shocking that three quarters are having to reduce numbers of teaching assistants, just to make ends meet. The Government's failure to properly fund support-staff pay deals is what lies at the heart of this.

 Successive surveys have shown that schools across the country are having to drop resources and cut staffing to the bone in order to survive. This repeatedly falls on deaf ears, however, and the Government allows it not only to continue but to worsen.

After 14 years of chronic Conservative cuts, 70% of schools in England have less funding in real terms than in 2010. One in eight local-authority-maintained schools were in deficit in 2022-23, the highest number on record since schools took control of their own bank balances in 1999. It is striking, too, that the Sutton Trust's latest survey finds that half of schools are redeploying pupil premium money to plug gaps elsewhere. Taken together, this is a clear indication that something has gone seriously wrong with school funding.

We are also far away from having the right level of SEND support to meet demand, thanks again to short-sighted cuts and the starvation of local authority services through inadequate funding. A third of members told us recently they have no behaviour support team whatsoever, a quarter have no access to an educational psychologist or CAMHS. Schools are having to pick up the pieces when referrals get stuck in a queue or are rejected. Make do and mend is not the answer to the crisis in SEND funding.

This Government is not serious about education. It must wake up to the reality in schools up and down the country and provide the funding that is needed to allow schools to fully deliver the service they want to provide and that parents rightly expect.

Chalkhill's Got Talent - Tomorrow Chalkhill Community Centre 1pm-3pm

 


Effusive praise for Cllr Tatler - a tale of two articles

We have a regular commenter on Wembley Matters who champions the Labour Council and s/he is so over the top that it often appears to be satire, actually serving to undermine the council. At other times it has been suggested it is written using an Artificial Intelligence program.

The latest missive is in response to Philip Grant's series of exchanges regarding what he sees as a political foreward by Cllr Shama Tatler to  Cabinet report about the Wembley Housing Zone development.

Out of curiosity I resorted to Artifical Intelligence and asked CHATGPT to:

Write in praise of Councillor Tatler's (London Borough of Brent) of the Labour Party efforts at regeneration calling into question Philip Grant's criticisms of her schemes and her alleged politicisation of the issue. Question Philip Grant's political neutrality and condemn his actions as enabling support for the Conservative Party

Here are the two pieces of writing. Can you identify similarities?

 

ARTICLE ONE 

Councillor Tatler's tireless efforts in the regeneration of the London Borough of Brent stand as a beacon of progress and community empowerment. With steadfast dedication, she has spearheaded initiatives aimed at revitalizing neighbourhoods, improving infrastructure, and enhancing the quality of life for residents. Her vision extends beyond mere development; it encompasses inclusivity, sustainability, and social cohesion.

Despite her commendable endeavours, Councillor Tatler has faced unwarranted criticism from individuals like Philip Grant, whose motives seem questionable at best. Grant's disparaging remarks and attempts to politicise the issue not only undermine the genuine progress being made but also reveal a disturbing lack of concern for the welfare of Brent's diverse populace.

Grant's purported neutrality crumbles under scrutiny, as his actions appear more aligned with partisan agendas than with the genuine interests of the community. By echoing critiques that serve to benefit the Conservative Party, he betrays a disregard for the fundamental principles of impartiality and integrity.

In contrast, Councillor Tatler's approach remains resolutely focused on the betterment of Brent, transcending party lines in pursuit of meaningful change. Her leadership exemplifies a commitment to serving the people above all else, fostering a sense of pride and optimism among constituents.

As we navigate the complexities of urban renewal, let us rally behind leaders like Councillor Tatler, whose passion, integrity, and unwavering dedication illuminate the path toward a brighter, more prosperous future for all residents of Brent. Grant's politicisation of the issue only serves to hinder progress and perpetuate divisiveness, making it imperative that we reject such divisive tactics and unite in support of genuine, community-driven regeneration efforts.

 

 ARTICLE TWO

As a passionate Labour supporter and an avid follower of Councillor Tatler's tireless dedication to our community, I must express my wholehearted support for her invaluable contributions to Brent Council. 

It's disheartening to see Philip Grant's attempts to undermine the vital role Councillor Tatler plays in providing clarity and context through their Cabinet Member Forewords.

Grant's narrow focus on political content overlooks the broader picture of Councillor Tatler's commitment to transparency, accountability, and inclusive governance. The Cabinet Member Forewords serve as a crucial bridge between policy decisions and the community, shedding light on the Labour Party's vision for a fairer, more equitable society.

Grant's insistence on dissecting every word of these forewords in search of supposed political bias misses the mark entirely. It's abundantly clear that Councillor Tatler's motivations lie in championing the interests of all Brent residents, regardless of political affiliation. Her unwavering dedication to serving the public interest is evident in every aspect of her work.

Furthermore, Grant's suggestion of reviewing the inclusion of Cabinet Member Forewords reeks of political manoeuvring rather than genuine concern for good governance. It's a thinly veiled attempt to undermine the Labour Party's influence and stifle progressive policies that aim to uplift the most vulnerable members of our community.

Residents need to stand in solidarity with Councillor Tatler and reject attempts to discredit their invaluable contributions. We must continue to champion transparency, accountability, and social justice in Brent Council, with Councillor Tatler leading the charge towards a brighter, more inclusive future for all. This is a really important year for Labour and you are either with us or Tory enablers. 

 

 

 


Thursday 18 April 2024

Complaint over party political content of a Council report – Are Cabinet Member Forewords appropriate for Brent?

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity


This is a continuation of the correspondence which you may have read last week, in a guest post headlined “Abuse of Power?”. One anonymous comment was glad that Brent Council were being held to account, to which I replied: ‘It is not an easy task, especially when Senior Council Officers seem determined that they have to defend what is sometimes the indefensible.’

 

If you read the previous emails, and feel interested enough to read this further exchange, you may see what I meant by that. I felt that, rather than dealing with the issues I’d raised, the Senior Officer was trying to create a smokescreen. I have tried to cut through that, politely I hope, with a view to seek a resolution of the points I thought it important enough to write to her about in the first place.

 

Email from Brent Council’s Corporate Director of Governance at 4.25pm on 12 April:

 

Dear Mr Grant

 

Thank you for your email and I have considered the points you raise.

 

I have also had a quick look at practice elsewhere.  The templates used by councils for reports to their Cabinet (or Executive) are varied.  In at least 8 councils reports are expressed to be from the Cabinet member(s) to the Cabinet, in others the reports are jointly from the Cabinet member(s) and relevant senior officer(s). The template used by at least 5 councils includes a cabinet member foreword or introduction, e.g. Haringey and Newham.

 

The new approach in Brent was adopted for the reasons I gave in my previous email and is not out of step with the approach elsewhere.  Having adopted this template, reports addressed to Cabinet for decision are prepared using the template.  The legislation then requires the council (subject to rules concerning exempt and confidential information) to publish those reports and permit the public and press to attend and observe the Cabinet meetings at which they are discussed.  The publishing of the reports is clearly undertaken in compliance with the Regulations i.e. in discharge of the council’s duties under them. 

 

I remain of the view that it’s perfectly clear from the heading of the Cabinet Member Foreword section of the report that the comments in that section are comments of the Cabinet member and not of the officer.

 

I note what you say about section 3., “Contribution to Borough Plan Priorities & Strategic Context” in the particular report.  On reviewing the other reports on that agenda and other recent agendas I have noted that there is an inconsistency in practice, with some reports including this additional heading and some not.  The template itself does not have two separate headings.

 

Thank you for drawing this to my attention and I have reminded the officers who sign off the report and also the Governance team of this.  I have also reminded them of the purpose of the Cabinet Member Foreword as indicated in my previous email.


My response to that email at 4.45pm on 17 April:

 

This is an Open Email

 

Dear Ms Norman,

 

Thank you for your email of 12 April. 

 

I will make this response shorter than my email of 10 April, and will concentrate on the two main points.

 

1. Did Councillor Tatler’s Cabinet Member Foreword contain political material?

 

You appear to have overlooked that my original email of 5 April was a complaint, about political content in the Cabinet Member Foreword, and you have managed to avoid addressing this question in both of your replies to me (8 and 12 April). So that we can finalise this point, please let me have your straightforward answers to these two questions:

 

a) Do you accept that the Cabinet Member Foreword, in the SCIL Request Officer Report to the Cabinet meeting on 8 April, contained some political material, including at least one piece of Labour Party political material?

 

b) Do you agree that it is wrong for Officer Reports to Cabinet meetings to include material which ‘in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party’ (irrespective of whether or not its publication breaches Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986)?

 

2. Are Cabinet Member Forewords appropriate in Officer Reports to Brent’s Cabinet?

 

For ease of reference, this is the purpose of Cabinet Member Forewords given in your email of 8 April:

 

‘The purpose of the introduction of the Cabinet Member Foreword was to provide an opportunity for the council policy context of decisions to be made explicit in reports to Cabinet by the Cabinet Member who is accountable for initiating and implementing council policies within the relevant portfolio.’

 

You have not explained whose decision it was to adopt the practice of including such Forewords, or at whose request. Please provide that information.

 

You have brought in information about what some other local authorities do, but all that should concern us, as citizens, Officers or Council members of Brent, is what is appropriate for our borough.

 

I understand that it helps Officers drawing up reports for Cabinet meetings to have a template, and that template (or necessary variations of it) can be drawn up or amended as appropriate, when the question I have asked in the heading to this section is resolved.

 

I think the best way to resolve it would be through a review, as I suggested, overseen by yourself, as Corporate Director of Governance, but taking views from other Senior Officers, Cabinet members and, I would suggest, the Leaders of the other Party Groups on the Council, and perhaps also the Chairs of Scrutiny Committees.

 

I have already put forward my views, as a politically independent observer of local democracy in Brent, where I have lived for more than 40 years. To summarise my views:

 

·      Officer Reports should be written solely by Council Officers, as their role is to provide the Cabinet, impartially, with all the information they need to make key decisions, and to make recommendations based on that information.

 

·      Officers making and signing off those reports must be aware of the Borough Plan Priorities and other Council policies for the service area they are responsible for, and it makes sense for that to be included in one section of their reports.

 

·      If the Cabinet Lead member with the portfolio covered by the report wishes to add their own views on the policy context, they can do so when introducing the item at the meeting, and also by circulating their own briefing document to their colleagues, should they think it necessary.

 

Best wishes,

 

Philip Grant.

 

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Tough questions from Byron Court parents at Brent Scrutiny Committee. Why did the Rapid Improvement Group fail?


 Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Commitee: Byron Court presentation & responses

 

Two Byron Court Parents attended Scrutiny Committee thia evening to ask questions about what Brent Council had done to help the school when it was realised it was in difficulties, The Rapid Improvement Group (RIG) was set up in September 2022 more than a year before the Ofsted Inspection of November 2023.

Parents' Questions

Tanisha Phoenic: RIG history - we have put in an FOI request to help us understand how an Outstanding school with a teaching status in the borough has been left to languish, in the meantime, can the panel answer some of our questions:

 

Rig was put in place on Sept 2022, chaired by Shirley Parks. Why was RIG put in place? What issues were identified in 2022? Are some of these the same issues that Ofsted identified in their inspection?

 

What was achieved by the RIG between its inception and the Ofsted inspection in Nov 2023? How many meetings took place, what was the level of monitoring and support put in place?

 

Was it identified during the year that the RIG was in place that improvements were not being made? What interventions if any were made, were these issues escalated? If so, then where?

 

We understand that the support to the school via the RIG and SESS has not been as intensive as required i.e. meetings being frequently cancelled by Council officers. Has this in part led to the poor inspection rating?

 

Did the Council experience any barriers working effectively with the previous Headteacher and governing body?

 

We want to understand if a school mentioned in 3.3.2 that was rated “requires improvement” in 2022/2023  has had a RIG in place and been on “journey to good” - why has the RIG failed Byron Court?

 

Do the committee really believe that they have done all in their power to help the school and avoid what has now become a forced academy order?

 

 

Vina Vekria -  Assurances from now to academisation

 

Whilst we acknowledge that you are legally bound to comply with the academisation order, Gwen Grahl reaffirmed the council's commitment to supporting and improving the school and assured us additional leadership capacity would be in place after Easter. 

 

What if any guarantees can you give us that the council will be living up to its commitment to ‘protect/promote community schools’ as per the Labour manifesto? Will you commit to pushing for a reinspection?

 

We are campaigning for a reinspection of the school, what guarantees can you give that the RIG will do what is expected and required to achieve the rapid improvements needed?

 

What additional resources - mentioned by Cllr Grahl at the Cabinet meeting on 9 Apr - are being put into the school and when? Will this address the huge lack in capacity in the Senior Leadership Team?

 

Will the Scrutiny Committee agree to return to this item at their next meeting in order to provide details of actions put in place?

 

There was no specific reply to the RIG question or on resources as applied to Byron Court although it was claimed that RIGs were generally successful.   Cllr Grahl spoke about her letter to the Secretary of State and offered to meet with parents. Cllr Ketan Sheth (Chair) said the Committee would keep a watching brief and parents could submit questions to the Committee. Answering a councillor's question Brent officers said that they were confident that no other Brent school would suffer a similar fate to Byron Court.

This is the FoI request made to Brent Council:

Dear Brent Council,

I am writing to you on behalf of over 130 parents involved in the ‘Byron Court Parents’ Campaign group’. The group represents parents who are opposed to the forced academisation of the school following Ofsted’s report.

We urgently request under the Freedom of Information Act the following:

Date of the initiation of Rapid Improvement Group (RIG), details of reasons(or redacted) the RIG was requested/instigated
Date of RIG was put into place
RIG Lead and its members
Aims and Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) of the RIG
Minutes from RIG meetings
Details (or redacted) of improvements achieved

Monday 15 April 2024

Harris Federation told to keep their hands off Byron Park Primary School

 

 

Representatives of the Harris Federation of Academy Schools could not have failed to hear the chants and shouts of campaigners when they visited Byron Court Primary School to speak to staff after school today.

 The quiet suburban streets echoed to 'Hands Off Our School', 'Whose School? - Our School!', 'Kids not Quids'(a reference to the half-million salary of the Harris boss), and 'Byron Court - Can't be bought.'

The recent  LINK letter to the DfE by Gwen Grahl Brent Council Lead Member for Schools, was welcomed  by many parents I spoke to as a stepping up of the Council's support for the camapign against the Harris takeover. Several councillors sent apologies for not being able to attend, Cllr Jumbo Chan sent a solidarity statement and Cllr Daniel Kennelly (Preston ward) used the megaphone to pledge support for the campaign aim to keep Byron Park as an academy overseen by the local authority.

The campaign demands are basic:

1. Give the new leadership team, helped by the local authority, a chance to demonstrate that they have addressed the issues raised by Ofsted.

2. Suspend the academisation process while that happens and then arrange an Ofsted re-inspection that will hopefully record an improvement and make academisation no longer necessary.

Meanwhile the NEU is conducting a strike ballot on the basis that academisation would change and worsen their conditions of service. Presently many Federation school union branches are in dispute with Harris over wages and conditions.

Several speakers expressed pride in the way staff and parents were united in the battle to Save Byron Court - and the children deserve a mention too. They were passionate in their support for the school and not afraid to shout it out loud and clear.

The bright yellow shirts of the campaigners were symbolic of the upbeat mood of the protesters - they are clearly refusing to be downhearted and will fight on.

LETTER: Dangerous scaffolding in high winds on a residential council building 'Not Brent's problem' according to the Council's Emergency Team

 


Queens Park was closed by the City of London Corporation today as a precaution in the high winds. Public Safety is of paramount importance. Meanwhile I received this letter today from just down the road in South Kilburn. 

Dear Editor, 

For months residents of Alpha House in South Kilburn and their representatives have been raising issues with Brent Council about scaffolding which has ben erected on a section (1/3rd) of Alpha House. Despite repeated promises from the Council that residents will be forewarned if scaffolding is to be erected on their block (a promise Brent has never kept), it took repeated complaints after the scaffolding was erected last November before any letter was sent to residents saying work needed to be done on the roof guttering. Since then, issues have been raised several times about the safety of the scaffolding and easy access to it. 

Questions have been asked about how long it is going to be there, particularly as people have only been seen working on it very few times. Moreover, people know that much of the costs of such work is offloaded on to leaseholders, and the longer the scaffolding remains (to what purpose?) the higher the charge to leaseholders.

This evening in the high winds, a board blew off the scaffolding and another looked as if it soon would. A call to Brent Council's emergency number got the response that it wasn't Brent's problem (on a Council block!) because the scaffolding doesn't belong to Brent..., The only suggestion was that it could be cordoned off (by who?), ignoring the fact that this would prevent residents getting to, or leaving, their flats.

So the Fire Brigade was called. They came promptly, but apparently they are not allowed to go on scaffolding (because it might be unsafe.....), but did suggest - and help with - knocking on doors and warning people of the problem and danger.

So much for Brent Council, both for its lack of willingness to deal with queries about the safety of the scaffolding in the first place, and then a completely offhand response to an emergency situation.

Pete Firmin, chair, Alpha, Gorefield and Canterbury Tenants and Residents Association


Council housing – Brent’s clarification on London Living Rent homes at Fulton and Fifth development

 Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity

 


East elevation drawing and location plan for Fulton and Fifth development.
(From documents in planning application 22/3123)

 

When I wrote my guest post “Brent’s Council Housing – A Tale of Two Sites” last month, I gave some details of a type of “affordable” housing known as London Living Rent (“LLR”), which the Council will be using for a block of flats it is buying at the Fulton and Fifth development in Wembley Park. 

 

I used details of this type of tenancy given on the GLA website, that ‘it is designed to help people transition from renting to shared ownership.’ I sent a copy of my article to Cllr. Promise Knight, Brent’s Lead Member for Housing, and asked:

 

‘IF Brent goes ahead with letting tenancies at Fulton and Fifth as LLR, what length of LLR tenancy does it plan to award? 

 

What will happen to those LLR tenants when their LLR tenancy comes to an end, if they are unable or unwilling to convert it to a Shared Ownership lease?’

 

I have now received a reply from Brent to that query, and as it clarifies the position (thankfully, these Council homes will not be converted to Shared Ownership!) I am setting out that response here, so that the correct information is available:-

 

‘I’m responding to your email below on behalf of Councillor Knight.

 

Thanks for your questions, your article is based on the assumption the Council is delivering London Living Rent as described by the Greater London Authority.

 

On 06 February 2023, the Council published a Cabinet report outlining the plans for Fulton and Fifth.

 

In this report, we state that Local Authorities can request from the GLA to rent the properties in perpetuity. We can confirm that this permission has been sought and granted and so the London Living Rent homes will continue to be rented at London Living Rent levels rather than there being a requirement to convert to Shared Ownership. This means they are effectively Discount Market Rent homes but will use London Living Rent levels to dictate the levels of rent charged.

 

The Council agrees, social rent and London affordable rent will always be the preference and priority and the scheme includes 176 homes for London Affordable Rent.

 

Best wishes

 

Head of Affordable Housing & Partnerships’

 

 

Extract from the Report on the Fulton Road development to the 6 February 2023 Cabinet meeting.

 

Leaving aside the assurance at the end of the reply, that the Council regards Social Rent and London Affordable Rent homes as a ‘preference and priority’, and the claim in the February 2023 Report that the Fulton Road development will benefit meeting ‘current housing demand’ (the homes are expected to be ready by July 2026), 294 new Council homes for rent is to be welcomed. Here is the split of home sizes for the two blocks, and two rent levels:-

 

 

Extract from the Report on the Fulton Road development to the 6 February 2023 Cabinet meeting.

 

It is a pity that more of these homes could not be at the “genuinely affordable” LAR level, but they should, at least, be cheaper to rent than private rents for similarly sized accommodation. I included a chart in my earlier article, showing what the LLR rent levels are for different sized homes in each of the Wards in Brent. 

 

I will finish by comparing what tenants in each of the two “affordable” housing blocks would be paying in rent, if their tenancy began in April 2024. The figures will be different (higher) by 2026, and they do not include service charges or Council Tax.

 

In block E, they will be tenants of Brent Council, and 2024/25 LAR rents (converted to monthly figures, but with weekly rent shown in brackets) would be:

 

1-bedroom  -  £840  (£193.99 pw)
2-bedroom  -  £890  (£205.39 pw)
3-bedroom  -  £940  (£216.80 pw)

 

In similar sized flats next door in block D, where the tenancies would be from one of Brent Council’s wholly-owned companies (First Wave Housing or i4B Ltd), the 2024 LLR monthly rents would be:

 

1-bedroom  -  £1,080
2-bedroom  -  £1,200
3-bedroom  -  £1,320

 

In theory, the LLR homes are for people who have a higher income (household income of up to £60,000 a year), but it would be interesting to know how the Council will decide who gets offered block D, and who is offered block E. It makes quite a big difference!

 

Philip Grant.

Thursday 11 April 2024

Abuse of Power? Complaint over party political content of a Council report – Brent’s reply and Philip Grant's response to it.

 

 

Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity

 

Last Friday, Martin published an Open Email which I’d sent to Brent Council’s Corporate Director of Governance, complaining about a Cabinet Member Foreword included in the report illustrated above. I received a reply from that Senior Council Officer on Monday morning, and sent my response to it just before lunchtime on Wednesday. 

 

It may seem as though I am making a fuss over a relatively minor matter, but when those in power at our local Council seem to be abusing the power that they hold, I think it is important to point it out, and to do so publicly. If they allowed to get away with one abuse, the next one may be bigger, and so on.

 

If the way that “Democracy in Brent” is conducted is of interest to you, the full text of the Council’s reply to my email of 5 April, and of my response to it, are set out below.

 

Email from Brent Council’s Corporate Director of Governance at 9.03am on 8 April:

 

Dear Mr Grant

 

Thank you for your email.

 

I have looked at the section of the report to which you refer and also had a discussion with the Chief Executive.

 

Although, as you rightly say, it forms part of a report addressed to Cabinet signed off by an officer, the Cabinet Member Foreword in the report is separated from the main body of the report and clearly provided by the councillor and not by the officer who has signed off the report.

 

Leaving aside the question of whether there would otherwise be an issue in relation to the publicity related provisions to which you refer, I would point out that they arise under Part II of the Local Government Act 1986.  Section 6 (7) of that Part of that Act states:

 

(7) Nothing in this Part shall be construed as applying to anything done by a person in the discharge of any duties under regulations made under section 22 of the Local Government Act 2000 (access to information etc.)

 

These are regulations relating to publication of papers for, and admission to, meetings of the council’s Executive (Cabinet) and its committees and related matters.

 

The purpose of the introduction of the Cabinet Member Foreword was to provide an opportunity for the council policy context of decisions to be made explicit in reports to Cabinet by the Cabinet Member who is accountable for initiating and implementing council policies within the relevant portfolio. 

 

I am happy to remind officers signing off reports of this intention.

 

Best wishes

 

Debra



My response to that email at 11.50am on 10 April:

 

This is an Open Email

 

Dear Ms Norman,

 

Thank you for your email on Monday morning, 8 April.

 

I have considered it carefully, and have studied the legislation and Statutory Instruments arising from the main point you made on Section 6(7) LGA1986.

 

1. Your claim that ‘the Cabinet Member Foreword in the report is separated from the main body of the report’ does not stand up to scrutiny. Yes, it is headed Cabinet Officer Foreword, but it is subsection 3.1 of section 3 “Detail” in the middle of a document which, as I pointed out, is the ‘Report from the Interim Corporate Director of Communities & Regeneration’.

 

2.0 I admit that I had not considered the possible effect of Section 6(7) LGA1986 on the points I raised in my complaint email to you on 5 April. For that, I apologise. You appear to have used this to justify avoiding any answer over the content of the Cabinet Member Foreword being political material. But is Section 6(7) the “loophole” which allows that otherwise prohibited material to be published?

 

2.1 For ease of reference, I will copy that paragraph again here, but I have emphasised some of the key wording:

 

‘(7) Nothing in this Part shall be construed as applying to anything done by a person in the discharge of any duties under regulations made under section 22 of the Local Government Act 2000 (access to information etc.)’

 

Those regulations are set out in The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000/3272) [“the Regulations”]. Under the Regulations, the executive (in this case, Brent’s Cabinet) is the “decision making body”, an individual member of the executive can be a “decision maker”, and the duties of decision makers, either collective or individual, are to make “executive decisions”.

 

Paragraph 11 of the Regulations, “Access to agenda and connected reports” begins by stating:

 

‘(1) Subject to paragraph (2), a copy of the agenda and every report for a public meeting shall be available for inspection by the public at the offices of the local authority when they are made available to the members of the executive or decision making body responsible for making the decision to which they relate.’

 

Subsequent sub-paragraphs make it clear that providing those reports, and managing public access to them, is part of the duties of officers of the Local Authority.

 

2.2 This is also reflected in Brent’s own Constitution. Paragraph 3 in Part 1 illustrates the clear distinction between the roles and duties of Cabinet members and Council officers, and states:

 

‘The Cabinet is responsible for putting policies, which Full Council has approved, into effect. The Cabinet is the part of the Council which is responsible for most of the Council’s day-to-day decision making not delegated to officers.’

 

Standing Order 13 in Part 2, “Meetings and Decisions of the Cabinet and Cabinet Committees”, includes these provisions:

 

‘(e) Any decision taken by the Cabinet or by Cabinet Committees shall be taken following the consideration of a written report and after having taken into account all legal, financial and other relevant implications, the responses to any consultation and the comments received from the relevant Scrutiny Committee and any previous meeting of Full Council where the matter the subject of the decision was considered.

 

(f) Any decision of the Cabinet or Cabinet Committees shall be taken in accordance with all current legislation, these Standing Orders and the other applicable rules contained in the Constitution.’

 

The report which the Cabinet must consider is written by Council Officers, and signed off by the Corporate Director responsible for the Department which deals with the report’s subject matter. That is done ‘in the discharge of’ that officer’s duties. 

 

2.3 It is not part of a Cabinet member’s duties, even a Lead Member’s duties, to write part of such a report. Their duty is to consider the written report, which provides all of the information they need in order to make their decision. For that reason, I do not believe that Section 6(7) LGA1986, applies in this case, so that the Cabinet Member Foreword in the report is still subject to, and breaches, Section 2 LGA1986.

 

3.0 I wrote that I could see no valid reason for Cabinet Member Forewords in Officer Reports to Cabinet. You have provided the following explanation:

 

‘The purpose of the introduction of the Cabinet Member Foreword was to provide an opportunity for the council policy context of decisions to be made explicit in reports to Cabinet by the Cabinet Member who is accountable for initiating and implementing council policies within the relevant portfolio.’

 

3.1 However, section 3.2, “Contribution to Borough Plan Priorities & Strategic Context”, of the very report we are considering here, sets out the council policy context explicitly. It also does so far better, and without the party political bias of Cllr. Tatler’s foreword.

 

3.2 The Report is about Strategic Community Infrastructure Levy funding to deliver a new publicly accessible courtyard garden and a community centre at the Council’s Cecil Avenue development, part of the Wembley Housing Zone. It is not about the housing project as such, but para. 3.1.3. of the foreword, in particular, concentrates on housing, beginning: ‘The housing crisis did not begin yesterday ….’

 

3.3 In this part of her foreword, the Lead Member for Regeneration, is putting forward views which appear to be different from the adopted Council policy she is meant to promote and deliver. Brent Council’s housing policy, is set out in Strategic Priority 1, “Prosperity and Stability in Brent”, of the Borough Plan 2023-2027. The key references are:

 

‘We will create more accessible and genuinely affordable housing. We want to be the leaders in London for inclusive housing development that works better for everyone. This means buying houses; building new social, accessible and affordable homes and improving our existing estates. We will also continue working with partners to increase the supply of private rented accommodation.’

 

‘DESIRED OUTCOME 2: Safe, Secure and Decent Housing - We will continue with our pledge to deliver 1,000 new council homes and be leaders in London in building inclusive and genuinely more affordable homes. This includes our pledge to deliver 5,000 new affordable homes within the borough, of which 1,700 will be directly delivered by the Council, by 2028.’

 

‘What Success Will Look Like - More council homes and more temporary accommodation provided by the council. More genuinely affordable and accessible homes available to families and residents.’

 

3.4 Cllr. Tatler’s version of the Council’s housing policy is:

 

‘We have a moral imperative to do all in our power to build more housing and communities that last long into the future. The regeneration that underpins the Wembley Housing Zone, is exactly that – an effort to build a better Brent, a place where home ownership is a reality, not just a dream.’

 

I’ve used bold type again to emphasise what she is championing in her Cabinet Member Foreword. Whereas the Council’s policy is to deliver new genuinely affordable Council homes, Cllr. Tatler’s agenda appears to promote homes for sale. 

 

Sadly, that is what the Brent Council development, under her “Regeneration” guidance, on Council-owned land at Cecil Avenue is actually going to deliver, with 150 (out of 237) of the new homes there being built for private sale, and only 56 as Council homes for genuinely affordable rent.

 

4.0 My email to you of 5 April suggested that the inclusion of Cabinet Member Forewords in Officer Reports to Cabinet should be reviewed, because I could see no valid reason for them. I think that our correspondence has confirmed that view (see 3.0 and 3.1 above), and I hope that you and the Chief Executive, to whom I am copying this, will initiate that review and publish its results.

 

4.1 Another reason why such Forewords are unnecessary, given in my email of 5 April, was because: ‘the Lead Member has the opportunity to make any additional comments she/he may wish to when introducing the agenda item at the Cabinet meeting.’

 

Cllr. Tatler proved this point at the Cabinet meeting on 8 April, when in introducing item 9 she read out large extracts from her Cabinet Member Foreword, including the claim about ‘a Labour pledge met.’ The evidence is on the webcast, published on Brent Council’s website.

 

4.2 If ‘the Cabinet Member who is accountable for initiating and implementing council policies within the relevant portfolio’ wishes to put their view on what those policies are to her or his colleagues, in writing and in advance of the formal Cabinet meeting, they can circulate their own document to their Cabinet colleagues. Those views should not be included in a Report by a Council Officer, on which the Cabinet is being asked to make a decision.

 

4.3 That is especially true if the Cabinet member has included political material, which the Council is prohibited from publishing, as part of their “Foreword”.

 

In view of the above, hope you will be happy to advise officers signing off reports to Cabinet that they should not, in future, include Cabinet Member Forewords in those reports.

 

I look forward to receiving your confirmation of this. 

 

Best wishes,

 

Philip Grant.