Greenwich Council hides a sub-standard standards ad


Fancy doing your bit to keep an eye on Greenwich Council? Well, now’s your chance. But you’ve got to move quickly. Very quickly.

Under the coalition’s new “localism” laws, councils have to change they way their own councillors are scrutinised. They now have to establish a standards committee to adjudicate on complaints about councillors’ behaviour, consisting of three councillors and three independent members.

There’s a vacancy for the new committee, as Sir Michael Pike, the current chair of the probity and conduct committee, can’t stand for the new standards panel. So, the council needs to advertise for a new one.

This is a big job – ultimately, it’s about deciding on the conduct of those elected to public office, whether they’re behaving well or failing to come up to scratch. So, how did “royal” Greenwich decide to promote this?

By burying this ad at the back of last week’s propaganda weekly, Greenwich Time:

Unfortunately, the online version of GT doesn’t render very well, although you can see a PDF of the page here, where it shares space with an ad for a skip firm and another one for a car dealer in, um, South Norwood.

One thing you’ll notice is that the closing date is TODAY. Greenwich Time is delivered between Tuesday and Thursday, so many potential applicants would only have eight days to get an application form from the council and return it. The back of Greenwich Time, with the skips and the bangers, is the only place this role has been advertised – there’s no sign of it on the council’s baffling website, certainly not in the jobs section. The council aims to have someone in place to be ratified by the next council meeting, on 24 July.

Is the council trying to hide something? “It’s raised eyebrows all over the council,” an old hand tells me. While nobody who knows a councillor or council officer well is allowed to take the job, there’s a widespread suspicion that the leadership is hoping someone amenable will get the job – and the fewer applications they get, the more chance that an “approved” candidate can be parachuted into the role.

Of course, Greenwich borough residents who fancy the role can bring this to a halt – and apply themselves. If you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, why not drop a line to council legal head Russell Power, and get a form if you fancy a pop at it? You’ll be doing your fellow citizens – and quite a few concerned councillors – a favour.

PS. It’s also nearing the deadline for questions for that council meeting, which will be the last until Hallowe’en. After all, it’s not like there’s anything important going on for councillors to discuss in the intervening 15 weeks, is it? You can ask up to two questions – an 853 reader beat press, politicians and lazy local blog types to the cost of the royal borough rebranding a few months back, so here’s your chance to hold them to account.

Drop committees@greenwich.gov.uk a line, be nice, and make sure it’s in by noon on Tuesday. After all, if you don’t keep the council on its toes, in this borough, who else will?

6 comments

  1. Uhh, Darryl? The deadline is TODAY. Has this piece been sitting in your outbox for a week? Or are you conspiring with the Council to keep this in the family? 😉

  2. Well spotted.

    The new complaints system in Greenwich is being set up in rather a shabby way all round. There was a backstairs deal between Chris Roberts and Tory Leader Spencer Drury and the new arrangements were agreed at the June Council meeting with hardly any any debate and without public consultation.. In my view the old system was pretty poor but the new one will be even worse, with the majority party effectively controlling the outcome of complaints against councillors.

    My understanding is that there is no obligation under the legislation to have a standards committee of three + three and that the only compulsory element is the appointment of an “independent person”

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/20/section/28/enacted

    My preference would be to appoint just one person who would act as a kind of Ombudsman and not bother with a Standards Committee. The three independent members of the committee will not have a vote and the councillors will be split at present 2 Lab + 1 Con. Thus the final decision on complaints will be made by the Labour appointees with the statutory independent person only having an advisory role. One useful thing they could do is to argue for all adjudications to be published on the Council’s website

    I notice that the Greenwich Times advert is seeking applications from people who “live, work or study in Greenwich”. I don’t think this is a statutory requirement and indeed somebody from outside the Borough is more likely to be really independent.

    Under the old system the three independent members were allowed to vote and with the chairman’s casting vote could theoretically outvote the councillors. The problem with the old system was that the independent members, although well-intentioned, tended to be establishment figures with a don’t rock the boat philosophy and were reluctant to offend powerful interests. In 2008 I complained about the prolonged absence from the Borough of a Labour councillor. The Standards Committee clearly didn’t want to adjudicate on this and managed to kick the complaint into the long grass where the Labour group were able to leave it.

    I am convinced that the new system has been set up with the intention of making it even more difficult for any complaints about Chris Roberts or one of his cronies to get a fair hearing.

  3. Hi Darryl,

    I am a little concerned that you weren’t listening at the last Council meeting where we debated this! My understanding is that the Localism Act removes any requirement for a Standards Board to exist at all (as Paul has said here already) – there only need for an independent person. Chris Roberts and I have met to discuss it and agreed that keeping the current arrangement makes sense as it has tougher requirements in terms of declaring interests and transparency than the minimum required by the new act. I believe that the arrangements are a starting point but the principles agreed at the Council meeting are reasonable (I don’t care if Chris Roberts is on the Standards Committee or not, but if I was a Labour Councillor I might feel differently). I am sure any ideas about the principles agreed would be welcome and I would certainly like to read people’s views of them. In general, the regime we have agreed seems to be tougher than that many other Councils have considered and I’m pleased with that.

    On a different note, unfortuantely I don’t think there will be questions at this Council meeting, but hopefully we have agreed there will be an extra on in Septmber to make up for this shortened meeting here.

    Spencer

  4. At the special meeting tonight councillors appointed Sir Michael Pike as the “Independent Person”. It appears he can do the new job but for one year only. The Council’s General Purposes Committee will appoint the third non-voting independent member to the new Standards Committee.

    It was reported that five people had applied for one or both of the advertised posts. Councillor Alex Grant (Lab Blackheath & Westcombe) mildly and bravely spoke out against the truncated timetable but found no support either on his own or on the Tory benches.

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