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City of London

Gagging Row

'Gagging' of our resident Common Councillors

In April the Court of Common Council was presented with a petition signed by over 1,100 City residents declaring 'no confidence' in the City's standards regime. The key issue being that resident Councillors are not able to represent their constituents on matters which affect their constituents no less than themselves without obtaining ‘dispensations’ that are widely refused. See text of petition at bottom of page.

Resident Councillors who are leaseholders have a disclosable pecuniary interest (DPI) and the Localism Act prevents them from speaking or voting an a matter where their interest is engaged - this often relates to planning and licensing matters. However, it allows for dispensations to be granted when it is in the interests of local people. Local Authorities across the country grant their resident Councillors a general dispensation at the beginning of their term on the basis that an issue affects their constituents no less than themselves. Click on graphic for more info.

On May 24 a response from new chair of Standards Committee was published suggesting that residents were 'confused' - you can read it here.

Chairs of both Barbican Association and GLERA responded very strongly, as did Cllr Graeme Harrower, from a business ward and a critic of the way the Standards Committee operates. You can read their response here.

Consequently Cllr Mark Bostock submitted a request for general dispensation which was refused by the Dispensations Sub-Committee on 3 July. 

It should be noted that three other resident Councillors submitted a request for general dispensation and have also been refused, including GLE resident, Cllr Sue Pearson whose treatment by the Standards Committee, triggered the initial dismay among residents.

Most disappointingly for residents, Cllr Mary Durcan, herself a Barbican resident and recent appointment to the Standards Committee, voted to refuse the request despite having signed the petition.

Earlier in June she declared her hope 'to influence the committee to take a more permissive view that is in line with the practice of other local authorities.’ In a follow up newsletter she quotes one resident: 'I am so GLAD you are on the Standards Committee. It is quite scandalous that it has until now deemed its role to silence the representatives of as many City residents as it can.' 

However, Councillors in support of Standards' reform made the following comments:

Cllr Bostock

“I was elected as a councillor to represent my fellow residents on matters that affect us. I now find that I am expected to seek permission continuously from this standards committee, effectively a third party, to do so. This situation is not acceptable.”

Cllr Pearson

“Yet again the City Corporation, acting through three members of its standards committee, has tried to control how resident councillors (like me) act on behalf of their constituents. This simply isn’t democracy."

Cllr Harrower 

“The City Corporation must be unique among local authorities in its dismissive attitude towards its residents. This attitude is evidenced in many ways, including its “standards” regime being used to deny residents the same level of democratic representation as in other local authorities. The City Corporation is also unique in having most of its members elected by business votes - unnecessarily, because the absence of a business vote system has not prevented business from flourishing in Canary Wharf, or anywhere else in the UK or abroad. The question naturally arises as to whether a local authority that primarily serves private commercial interests (which have the means to represent themselves) at the expense of its residents (who, as anywhere, need effective representation from their councillors) should continue to have the powers of a public authority. The question isn’t new, but the answer is becoming overdue.”

Cllr Harrower who attended the meeting from the public gallery has subsequently written to all Councillors again stressing the anti-resident bias of the current policy. You can read it in full here along with Cllr Bostock's dispensation request: Dispensations Sub-Committee fails the test

He has continued to put pressure on the Court of Common Council to address the issues, bringing to light a secret Standards Committee meeting in April where even further restrictions on resident Common Councillors was discussed. He also pushed for a full response to resident letters. Read his emails here

Unfortunately at Court of Common Council on 18 July there was another attempt to silence/gag our councillor - in what appears to be bullying tactics senior Alderman Luder, abetted by the chair of standards committee has tried to slur the character of Sue Pearson, insinuating that she was doing something criminal in relation to rights of light compensation as a result of the COLPAI development. You can read Cllr Sue Pearson's account of how the Alderman insinuates I'm a criminal

Cllr Pearson has since made a formal complaint about Alderman Luder's conduct. She has also made a formal complaint about Alderman Wootton's conduct in failing to carry out a timely enquiry into this complaint in his capacity as Chair of the General Purposes Committee of Aldermen.

On 9 August the chairs of the BA and the Golden Lane Estate Residents Association wrote to the Standards Committee urging them to listen to residents’ complaints about the policy and explaining why they consider it continues to disenfranchise the residents of the City of London. Read their letter here: Letter to standards committee 9 August 2019

The Standards Committee, following a request from some of the newer members, scheduled an additional meeting for September 6. Several residents attended this meeting to hear what the committee members had to say. Read Cllr Harrower's report letter to residents - Standards Committee meets because of the residents’ petition, and.... IGNORES it!

The Standards Committee met on Friday 4 October to make what was scheduled to be a final decision on its dispensations policy. See letter from GLERA and BA noting lack of response to earlier correspondence and concerns about the agenda for the meeting which largely ignores the petition and resident requests.

As suspected the meeting was unsatisfactory, including a bungled vote. See update from Cllr Harrower -  The Standard Committee fails again... 

Whist it's generally understood that the public remain silent at these meetings, one resident felt compelled to point out that the vote counting was incorrect. Despite being correct they were seriously rebuked and told there would be no vote recount. Read the correspondence which resulted, and ultimately the complaint which was submitted against Cllr Ann Holmes, Chair of the Standards Committee.

On November 18 the Dispensations Sub-Committee of the Standard Committee met to to consider identical applications made by three resident councillors - Sue Pearson (Golden Lane Estate resident, Cripplegate), Mark Bostock (Cripplegate) and Brian Mooney (Queenhithe) - for “’general” dispensations. As a consequence of the bungled vote at the last meeting residents submitted a request to film the proceedings. Comments made by Cllr Barnes about Cllr Bostock and his wife form the basis of a complaint which has been made to the Standards Committee for breaches of the code of conduct. You can read more here and watch below.

There was some debate but ultimately the sub-committee decided to refer the three applications back to the Standards Committee for a decision at its next meeting on 24 January at 11 am. 

In preparation for that meeting, Councillor Graeme Harrower provided a number of comments: The latest on the City’s “standards” shambles. After the meeting, he reported on its outcome: Downfall of the City Corporation’s dispensations policy.

On 7 February the Standards Chair was 'delighted' to say that the Standards Committee had agreed 'further liberalisation' of the dispensations policy as if this had been done on the initiative of that Committee. The persistence of residents and the efforts of Councillors Sue Pearson and Mark Bostock (Cripplegate) and Graeme Harrower (in neighbouring Bassishaw) were key to winning these  significant changes. Read more: THE LAST WORD... Standards Committee Climb Down and Spin

MEDIA COVERAGE

City of London forced to confront winds of change

The Telegraph 11 February 2020

City of London Corporation chief seeks rule change after 'gaging' row

City AM 13 December 2019

City Councillors 'gagged' from  representing residents

City Matters 29 Nov 2019

City of London streamlines its dispensation policy

City Matters 29 October 2019

'Muzzled councillors' spat leads to demands for standards reform

City Matters 29 May 2019 (published online 24 June)

City of London Corporation Chiefs seek rule change after 'gagging' row

City AM 13 Dec 2018

City councillors 'gagged' from representing residents

City Matters 29 Nov 2018

City of London Corporation caught in 'gagging' row after referring resident councillor to City of London Police

City AM 27 Nov 2018

THE PETITION

We, the undersigned residents of the City of London, declare that we have no confidence in the City Corporation’s current “standards” policy and practice.

We petition the Court of Common Council to make immediate and fundamental reforms so that:

– our elected representatives are free to speak and vote on our behalf, including on matters in which they have a declared interest (unless the matter uniquely or especially affects them), so that we have the same level of representation as residents of other local authorities; and

– our elected representatives do not feel intimidated into not speaking or voting on matters that affect us because they fear referral by the Corporation to a complaints process that has proved to be not fit for purpose – or worse, referral to the police -simply because they have a declared interest in a matter, even though they can derive no financial benefit from it.

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