In response to this letter Jane Smith, Chair of the Barbican Association, and myself, on behalf of GLERA have sent the letter below. I have asked that it be posted on Estate notice boards next to the letter from the Chair of the Standards Committee.
This the text of the reply Cllr Graeme Harrower made to the Standards Chair:
"There was no “confusion" on the part of those who signed the petition. The implication of your letter - that the signatories didn’t understand what they were doing - is factually incorrect, and may be regarded as offensive. The issues raised in the petition were widely reported, including in two City A.M. articles (attached). These articles were provided to collectors to show residents who may not have already been aware of the issues, and who may have wanted more information before signing. Both articles contained statements by the Corporation about its position. Any residents who were persuaded by the Corporation’s statements (although I’m not aware of any) would obviously not have signed.
Your letter fails to address squarely, or at all, the issues raised in the petition (attached). Specifically, your letter does not address the following:
- the law does not provide for dispensations to vote to be granted “only in exceptional circumstances”;
- the Standards Committee has a “broad discretion” to grant dispensations (according to the City Solicitor); and
- other local authorities do not adopt such a restrictive policy as the City (e.g. by their granting dispensations for up to four years).
The petition acknowledges that it would not be appropriate for resident councillors to participate in decisions on matters that uniquely or especially affect them, but those situations are likely to arise relatively rarely. The Corporations’ current policy goes well beyond this.
The restriction contained in section 618 of the Housing Act 1985 on resident councillors voting on certain housing matters needs to be observed for as long as it is on the statute book. It seems, though, that it shouldn’t be there. This provision, which applies uniquely to the Corporation, appears to be a relic of a statutory regime long since abolished, but its own repeal has been overlooked. The obvious solution is for the Corporation to seek its repeal.
It is true that “the working party gave a great deal of attention" to the dispensation policy, but it was attention of the wrong kind. The Court compelled the Standards Committee to abandon its proposal to prevent resident councillors from speaking on matters affecting their constituents. The rest of the working party’s restrictive proposals, however, were left largely untouched. I don’t believe residents will think it reasonable to wait a year to see how a policy which was devised by this working party and which is manifestly over restrictive will be implemented. I also don’t believe that residents will be satisfied with the Standards Committee waiting until October before considering an officers’ report, when the City Solicitor is on record as stating that “as a Member led authority, [the dispensations policy is] a political issue to be determined by members within the legal framework”.
Your letter ignores entirely the issue raised in the petition in response to the case last year, in which a popular resident councillor lived under the threat of criminal prosecution for nine months for having successfully opposed one of the Corporation’s own projects that adversely affected her constituents, although the matter could not have resulted in any financial benefit to her. One does not need to be a lawyer to recognise that this was not a proper use of the criminal law. The police eventually declined even to investigate the matter. The threat of prosecution was compounded by blatantly unfair internal proceedings conducted by the Standards Committee. This case crossed a line in the minds of many residents, who look to their councillors to represent them without facing intimidation and prejudice. The strength of feeling expressed by residents on the doorstep, and again in the evening session of the annual residents’ meeting at the Guildhall a couple of weeks ago, was palpable.
Your letter will not have the effect of the Corporation regaining control of these issues. Rather, it will have the effect of losing it further. Electors have expressed no confidence in certain policies and practices of their elected body. For the elected body to respond by expressing no confidence in its electors could be politically disastrous. A public debate about the democratic legitimacy of the business voting system may be just around the corner."
For reference full text of letter from the Chair of the Standards Committee, dated 24 May 2019
A petition, requesting changes to our Standards regime, was received at the meeting of the Court of Common Council, held 25 April. This was referred to the Corporation’s Standards Committee which, at its meeting on 3 May, asked officers to bring a report to its next meeting, in October. Meanwhile, we felt it might be helpful if I were to write to signatories and clarify some of the issues around which confusion seems to have arisen.
The Corporation seeks to ensure the highest ethical standards of behaviour from its members. It has its own code of conduct, its local authority functions are subject to the Localism Act 2011 and its housing to section 618 of the Housing Act 1985, which prohibits voting on Corporation housing matters, where a member rents or leases a property from the Corporation. At the heart of code and legislation alike is a commitment to members behaving selflessly, which means acting in ways which are demonstrably not self serving.
Members are required to register any disclosable pecuniary interest (DPI), including the ownership of leases or freeholds of property within the City. The Localism Act makes clear that a member may neither speak nor vote on any matter in which they have a DPI, unless they have obtained a dispensation to do so. The Corporation has chosen to apply the same rule to non local authority business, such as governing our independent schools.
It is only possible to grant a dispensation where the statutory grounds for doing so are met, but these are quite broad and the Standards Committee is able to exercise some discretion in deciding whether or not a dispensation should be granted. In order to ensure clear and consistent policy and practice in this regard, a working party was set up in July last year. Following extensive consultation, new policy and guidance on granting of dispensations was drawn up. This was received at the meeting of the Court of Common Council, held 7 March this year.
A matter which has proved problematic arises where members, like me, live in the ward they represent. It is almost inevitable that there will be times when a matter affecting the pecuniary interests of some of my constituents will also affect mine. As a result, there will be a conflict between my behaving selflessly and my speaking and/or voting on behalf of those I represent. In arguing their case, I will also be arguing my own. The working party gave a great deal of attention to this issue, and the Court made clear it favoured members being able to speak wherever possible. I believe our new policy means members with a DPI will usually be given dispensations to speak. The policy is, however, less than three months old; its implementation will be monitored very carefully over the coming year.
I hope this note will give you some measure of reassurance that, far from seeking to limit the representative role of members, the Corporation has sought to maximise this role, within the confines of the law and our own code of conduct.
With all good wishes
Following Ann Holmes response to GLERA and the Barbican Association letter we have the following reply. Residents are encouraged to make their views known to the Standards Committee individually by sending emails to the Standards Chair (firstname.lastname@example.org) copied to the Town Clerk (email@example.com). The more residents who do this, the more likely it is that we will achieve much needed reform and gain the same level of representation that residents in all other local authorities enjoy.
Our reply is: