Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Barnet Councillors' Interests: an open letter to the Chief Executive

The Tory councillors of Broken Barnet: above suspicion, and reputations still intact

*Update Thursday: Walkley's reply: nothing to do with me guv - see below ...

Dear Mr Walkley:

It is now three months since another blogger and I wrote to Barnet Council's Monitoring Officer to ask that he investigate what would appear to be serious discrepancies - inaccurate and partial entries - in the register of declaration of interests by a number of Conservative councillors.

If you recall, it was only after complaining to you that any acknowledgment of this complaint was made, despite reminders to the Monitoring Officer.

The evidence which we had submitted was, we were eventually told, checked and presented to the councillors concerned, and you have stated that as a result, entries would be updated, and the position 'reviewed'.

Despite the months that have elapsed since our original complaint, it would appear that the online register of entries has not been updated or amended.

As to any withheld entries that may be in need of correction, we of course are not able to judge: when we asked to see these entries which, in defiance of any regard for transparency, are kept under lock and key at North London Business Park, we were continually obstructed from exercising our right to view the register, and only permitted to view these documents under conditions of the most idiotically heavy handed security and personal supervision. Asking to see the register again would, again, no doubt be subject to the same unnecessary delays and discouragement.

As you will know, the requirement to comply with the declaration of interests is a statutory one, and failure to do so may not only lead to a complaint to the Standards committee, but, more seriously, may constitute a criminal offence. Such behaviour certainly will constitute a criminal offence under the terms of the new legislation, from July of this year.

We submitted the original complaint to the Monitoring Officer on the morning of 1st February, and that evening attended a meeting of the Standards Committee, at which a report was presented which stated:

Item 7, point 4.1:

'The levels of in-year updates to the Register of Members' Interests would appear to indicate that members are generally reporting their interests appropriately. If these indications are being interpreted correctly, then this would result in a lower risk of there being breaches of the Code of Conduct for non-declaration of interests and the potential damage to the Council's reputation that could arise as a result.'

This report, although written before we submitted our complaint, was not accompanied, as I recall, by any qualification referring to the evidence submitted that day, which was unfortunate, as the committee members were unaware of the possibility that the register may not be as accurate as it should be.

I sent an email to you on the 13th of this month to ask why it would appear that no effective action has been taken in this matter, and I remarked:

"I do not understand how such a delay is compatible with the statutory need for councillors to be transparent and accountable in regard to their declarations of interests,.

I think the residents of this borough have a right to know that their elected members are honest, open and fully compliant with the requirements of their positions, and I hope that any members who have broken the regulations on such declarations, or indeed are refusing to cooperate with your investigations, have been submitted to the relevant disciplinary procedures. "

You have neither acknowledged nor responded to this email.

On the declaration forms which councillors are obliged to sign, it quite clearly states:

"I recognise that it is a breach of the Council's local Code of Conduct to

1. omit information that ought to be given in this notice

2. provide information that is materially false or misleading

3. fail to give further notices in order to

-bring up to date information given in this notice

-declare an interest that I acquire after the date of this notice and have to declare

I further recognise that any of the above acts or omissions may result in a referral to the Standards Committee for an investigation of my conduct."

If the councillors concerned have been investigated, and found to be fully compliant with the regulations, then you have had three months in which to make this clear.

If, on the other hand, some or all of these individuals have breached the code and failed to comply with any statutory requirements, this is a very serious issue which needs to be acknowledged and referred for further action. In either case, in the interests of transparency, action must be taken, and seen to be taken.

I would think that bearing in mind the current level of dissatisfaction with the allegations of councillors abusing the use of their parking permits and other cases of councillors who are or have been the subject of complaints to the Standards Committee, it would be clear that the residents - and electors - of this borough are entitled to a more open, honest and efficient handling of such investigations.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

cc Rev Bernd Koschland, Chair of the Standards Committee


Mrs Angry has not as yet received any acknowledgement of this email, sent this afternoon.

Background: see earlier posts - apologies, links now working



*Update Wednesday - receipt of Mrs Angry's letter was acknowledged first thing this morning by Rev Koschland, the Chair of the Standards Board, yet she has still not received any response from the Chief Executive to whom the letter is addressed, nor any council representative on his behalf.

*Update Thursday - hello, after writing to the Chair of the Standards Committee, Mrs Angry has this morning at last received the following, rather less than helpful response from the Chief Executive:

Mrs Angry:

Thank you for your email and that of Friday 13th April. You are quite right that a reasonable period of time has elapsed since you raised issues relating to the Members Register of Interests and these were then raised with Members by the Monitoring Officer.

There is a process by which complaints against Members can be made. You may be familiar with how the process operates. However, should you wish to pursue a complaint and require guidance requiring (sic) the process, please contact the Monitoring Officer or, alternatively, Mr. Williams or one of his colleagues in the Governance Service.

Nick Walkley

Now Mrs Angry finds this reply to be frankly outrageous.

Walkley is saying that the onus for ensuring compliance with the statutory regulations and constitutional requirements of elected members lies with me, or any concerned resident, rather than with the Monitoring Officer, or indeed the Chief Executive. This is surely quite extraordinary, even by the extraordinarily bizarre standard of performance by senior officers here in Broken Barnet.

This attitude also contradicts the earlier assurances given to Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard, for example on 23rd February - and copied to a member of the Standards Committee:

Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard:

Thankyou for your email. I can report that, having checked the information against that held and published, Corporate Governance are in the process of writing to all of those Cllrs you have identified to seek clarification on the matters raised.

Mr Lustig will, no doubt, keep you updated.


Jeff Lustig is of course, the Monitoring Officer, and under the terms of the Council's constitution, it is his responsibility to ensure the members' compliance with their requirements in relation to the register of members' interests.

Mrs Angry has checked the constitution carefully, and as far as she can establish, there is no reference in it to any requirement of Mrs Angry to do Mr Lustig's job for him. As it is, she is, to be honest, along with her fellow bloggers, run off her feet trying to do Mr Walkley's job, Mr Andrew Traver's, and Mr Craig Cooper's.

More of that later, but really: do you, citizens of Broken Barnet, need any more proof that this borough is rotten to the core, and that your Tory councillors can do exactly what they want, and expect to get away with it?

If you do need any further proof - keep reading: plenty more where this comes from, you may be assured.


Mr Mustard said...

An expert demonstration of why he is called non-stick. He is as slippery as an eel but we can deal with those can't we Mrs Angry?

baarnett said...

They are all too busy with Project Titanic (or One Barnet as they call it) to bother with doing their day jobs, for which they get paid handsomely.

Mrs Angry said...

The infant Mrs Angry was once told by her lying brother, on holiday in Ireland, that all the rivers and streams were full of electric eels who would kill you if you put your hand in the water. He forgot to tell her it was not true until last year, which has caused a great deal of unnecessary concern.

He used to work for Barnet, and has had many years dealing with non electric eels and other horrible, slippery creatures.

Mrs Angry said...

hmm, you are right baarnett. But our hearts will go on, won't they? Ahhh.

Anonymous said...

Mrs A, is this tweak to the system going to give you trouble in dealing with your eels?


Mrs Angry said...

Hmm, thank you Anon.

I note the document is 'good practice and guidance' only and therefore is unlikely to be implemented in Broken Barnet.

I imagine anyway that our horrible, slippery Tory councillors will have problems reading beyond the first paragraph, and its helpful reminder:

"You are a member or co-opted member of the [name] council and hence you shall have regard to the following principles – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership."