Friday 5 April 2024

Complaint over party political content of Brent Council report on new Wembley Community Centre

Guest post  from Philip Grant in a personal capacity. Open Email to Debra Norman, Brent Council Corporate Director and Monitoring Officer. Also see report on the proposed community space HERE,


Subject: Political publicity in an Officer Report to the 8 April Cabinet meeting

This is an Open Email


Dear Ms Norman,


I am writing to you, in your roles as both Brent Council’s Corporate Director of Governance and Monitoring Officer, to complain about part of the content of a report published on the Council’s website which, I believe, clearly represents political publicity, in breach of Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986 (“LGA1986”).


The report is under item 9 of the agenda for the Cabinet meeting on Monday 8 April, “SCIL request for a new Publicly Accessible Courtyard and new Community Centre in Wembley”, and the part of that report I am complaining about is section 3.1, headed “Cabinet Member Foreword”.


Under the Standing Orders [13(e)] in Brent’s Constitution, Cabinet decisions ‘shall be taken following the consideration of a written report …’, and those reports are prepared and submitted to Cabinet by Council Officers. The report I am complaining of is such a report, from the Interim Corporate Director of Communities & Regeneration, and has been signed off by her, as shown by these screenshots from the online version of the report:




Although the title heading of the report does identify Councillor Tatler as the Cabinet member for Regeneration, Planning & Growth, the report is, as it should be, a Council Officer report, giving information to Cabinet about the matter they are being asked to consider and decide, including the necessary legal and financial details, and making recommendations based on that information.


In many ways, a Cabinet Member Foreword is superfluous, as it does not give any details which are not, or could not be, included by the Council Officer(s) in the report. Additionally, 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, and having those comments recorded in the minutes.


In this case, the seven paragraphs of the Cabinet Officer Foreword, covering 1¼ pages of the report, are more in tone and content like a political manifesto. Section 2(1), LGA1986, specifically states that: 


‘A local authority shall not publish, or arrange for the publication of, any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.’


Any claim that the text of this “Foreword” is simply reflecting policies adopted by Brent Council is undone by this sentence from paragraph 3.1.1.:


‘A Labour pledge met to continue using public assets for public good – balancing regeneration projects in the interests of the many in search of a new home, not the few that decry change.’


The specific mention of the pledge being a ‘Labour pledge’ means that, if such a pledge was actually made, it must have been made in words or a document published by the Labour Party. (Was such a pledge made, and if so, where is the evidence for it?). The use of the words ‘in the interests of the many … not the few’ is also clearly drawing on a slogan previously used in an election campaign by the Labour Party.


Section 2(2), LGA1986, explains how to identify political material which a local authority is prohibited from publishing:


‘In determining whether material falls within the prohibition regard shall be had to the content and style of the material, the time and other circumstances of publication and the likely effect on those to whom it is directed and, in particular, to the following matters—


(a) whether the material refers to a political party or to persons identified with a political party or promotes or opposes a point of view on a question of political controversy which is identifiable as the view of one political party and not of another;’


I have already pointed out that the ‘content and style’ of this Cabinet Member Foreword is similar to that of a political manifesto, and the words ‘a Labour pledge’ clearly refers to a political party. 


The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity (“the Code”), which applies to all local authorities and is included in Part 5 of Brent Council’s Constitution, makes clear that Section 2, LGA1986, must be followed, and that Section 6, LGA1986, ‘defines publicity as “any communication in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or a section of the public”. Although it could be claimed that this report is addressed to Brent’s Cabinet, it is a publicly available document, which I have already seen quoted in local online blogs and newspapers, so it must be 'addressed to the public at large.'


Para. 33 of the Code says: ‘Local authorities should pay particular regard to the legislation governing publicity during the period of heightened sensitivity before elections …’ We are in a so-called “purdah” period before the London Mayoral and GLA elections on 2 May, and the opening sentence of Councillor Tatler’s “Foreword” actually begins: ‘Working in partnership with Wates Construction and the Mayor of London ….’, while later in the paragraph referring to a ‘Labour pledge’, as I have shown above.


I hope I have shown why the Cabinet Member Foreword is ‘political publicity’, which should not have been allowed to be included in this report. The Council Officers compiling, checking and signing off this report should have identified it as such, and insisted on it being, at the very least, amended, so that it did not include party political content.


Council Officers should not be afraid to point out to elected members, and particularly Cabinet members, when they are overstepping the mark. They should also know that the Council’s most senior officers will support them when they do stand up against such attempted abuses of power, which is why I am copying this email to Brent’s Chief Executive.


The remedy, when this complaint is upheld, should be for the report document appearing on the Council’s website to be amended, so that the Cabinet Member Foreword is removed entirely from it, or at least the parts of it referring to party political matters.


The inclusion, a fairly recent feature, of Cabinet Member Forewords in Officer Reports to Cabinet, should also be reviewed. There seems no valid reason for them. If they are allowed to continue, there should be clearer guidelines to Cabinet members and Officers over what can, and cannot, be included in them.


I look forward to receiving your response to this complaint. Thank you. Best wishes,


Philip Grant.




Philip Grant said...

Please feel free to comment.

Am I overreacting with my complaint?

How do you think Brent Council will react to it?

Anonymous said...

Of course you are right

Anonymous said...

We are holding a minor local event soon - we've been grilled as to whether local opposition party councillors will be attending the event because there must be no publicity during the election purdah and yet it is okay for Cllr Tatler"s party politics piece to be published and recorded on public record.

Martin Francis said...

Have a look at this. Not sure who is grilling you but if you given equal access to all candidates you should be fine.

Philip Grant said...

Thank you Anonymous (7 April at 21.33) for you comment and confidence in me.

I would not have sent my open email unless I believed I was right, but I am human, so it is always possible that I could be mistaken.

If Brent Council can show me I'm wrong, I will accept that and admit I've made a mistake.

I've received a response to my email, which tries to persuade me I'm wrong, but I'm not yet convinced!

There will be more to come on this.

Anonymous said...

Presumably this would open the door to a judicial review of any decisions taken on the basis of this report.

Philip Grant said...

Dear Anonymous (9 April at 13:51),

Even if I am right, which I still believe I am, I doubt that it would be strong enough grounds for a Judicial Review.

You would need to be able to show that the decision, based on the Report as a whole, was so unreasonable that no reasonable person in possession of all the evidence would have made it.

There is ample evidence in the Officer Report that would justify the decision that Cabinet made (the Webcast never shows any Cabinet members putting their hands up in the split second between the Leader seeking agreement to recommendations and confirming that they have been agreed, so we have to assume that the decision was legally made).

Any attempted Judicial Review in this case would be a waste of time and money (and Brent Council are known to throw large amounts of legal fees at any attempt to challenge them via a Judicial Review, and use any trick in the book to win the case, whether they deserve to or not).