Scrutiny at Brent Council

5 Feb 2024

Cllr Anton Georgiou has sent the following message to Debra Norman, Corporate Director of Governance at Brent Council, after changes proposed by Brent Council's Labour leader in the number of councillor's required to sign a call-in request. The number proposed by Cllr Butt would require some Labour councillors to join the Liberal Democrat and Conservative opposition to achieve the revised required number.

To Debra Norman,

At the meeting the Leader of the Council asked for you to look at increasing the number of required signatures (by Councillors) for a call-in to take place from 5 to somewhere around 10.

Cllr Butt is perfectly aware that if this change were to occur, call-in’s would no longer take place in Brent as the combined Opposition (the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Group) totals 8 elected members. Labour members under the current regime, wouldn’t dare to sign a call-in scrutinising decisions by the Cabinet, for fear of retribution by their Whip. You only have to look at what happened to the Labour members who signed a call-in last term (2018-2022), related to poorly implemented LTN’s. Not one is currently an elected Councillor in Brent.

If the changes suggested by Cllr Butt are agreed to, it would be a total affront to democracy in our borough. Democratic scrutiny is the pillar of healthy and functioning governance. Seeking to stifle it in this way (which is how I view Cllr Butt’s request) sets a very dangerous precedent. It would also once again expose Brent as a place where scrutiny and inclusion of Opposition voice is not welcomed, rather it is frowned upon and limited. As you are aware, following the May 2022 local elections, Cllr Butt took it upon himself to banish Opposition Councillors from Vice-Chairing the two Scrutiny Committees in the borough. The move was seen by others in local government circles as a power grab. Frankly, it looked rather petty and insecure. It also took Officers by surprise, as the move had not been cleared with anyone (not even you?) beforehand.     

Cllr Butt’s latest attempt to stifle democratic scrutiny by limiting the ability for call-ins to take place is wrong and not in the interest of our residents, who want to see Council decisions challenged forcefully when required. After all, scrutiny leads to better outcomes. Residents are clearly very engaged in local democracy, take just the recent example of a petition on the Council website regarding the blue bag recycling system, which generated close to 3,500 signatures, a record for an e-Petition of this kind in Brent  - If Cllr Butt gets his way, decisions like this, which are clearly very unpopular with Council taxpayers, will likely be left unchallenged.

I want to make clear that if Officers agree to take Cllr Butt’s suggestion forward, the Liberal Democrat Group will robustly oppose the changes and will ensure residents are fully aware of the petty dictatorship that he leads.

I urge you to reject Cllr Butt’s suggestion and ensure that call-ins, an important form of scrutiny, in a borough with limited scrutiny already, can continue to take place, when they are required and legitimate.

Cllr Anton Georgiou

First published on Wembley Matters.

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