The City of London is not democratic because this council is elected mostly on business votes given to the likes of bankers who don’t live within its local authority boundaries. As a result it ignores local residents’ interests and instead spends millions of pounds a year lobbying for neo-liberal causes. We’ve also seen the council’s former leader Mark Boleat agitate for the removal of democracy from other UK councils when it comes to planning decisions, and this was done with the financial backing of the City of London Corporation. Likewise, the City of London Standards Committee appears incapable of properly addressing conflict of interest and inclusion issues when it comes to subsidising freemasonic activity by its members and their friends. That said, a story that appeared in a couple of local newspapers this week shows that the Standards Committee and their supporters in the City of London have now totally lost the plot with regard to their rabid attitudes toward local residents and democracy:
The City of London Corporation is embroiled in a gagging row after a resident councillor who spoke against a planning delegation decision was referred to police for potential prosecution.
Councillor Susan Pearson, who represents the ward of Cripplegate, was threatened with criminal prosecution after she spoke against a proposal to delegate a planning application next to the Golden Lane estate to Islington Council…
The proposal was defeated in January. The following month, the Corporation’s influential standards committee initiated proceedings against Pearson for a breach of the councillors’ code of conduct for participating in a matter in which she was alleged to have had a “pecuniary interest.”
After a series of hearings between May and September, a sanction that was originally imposed for breach of the code was revoked, but a sub committee of the standards committee ruled that Pearson would not be able to speak on any matter concerning the estate on either of the housing committees on which she sits.
Speaking to City A.M, Pearson said she found it “very intimidating” when she received an email from the Corporation’s solicitor informing her that she had been referred to the police.
“There was already the feeling among residents that you were not allowed to complain,” she said. “What is the point of being elected if I can’t speak for my constituents?” she said. “Even after this case I have continued to try to speak up for residents but am being silenced by the standards committee.”
Pearson added that she no longer felt comfortable going to the Guildhall. “The thing that really upsets me is that the standards committee believes that resident members [of the council] need to be told what they can or cannot speak about,” she said, “but there doesn’t seem to be the same focus on members with business interests.”
The City of London Police confirmed that it will not be investigating Pearson.
It said in a statement: “An allegation of a City of London common councilman failing to declare an interest was raised with the City of London Police by the City of London Corporation to ascertain the most appropriate and proportionate response. It was jointly decided that this fell within the scope of the Corporation’s internal procedures and as such a criminal referral was not made. To ensure the decision was consistent in applying relevant legislation and codes of practice, independent advice was secured from another police force and supported the decision made.”
Last month one concerned councillor, a recently retired City solicitor, circulated a document to fellow councillors detailing her case and suggesting that it could give rise to “a perception that the Corporation is trying, more widely, to muzzle the effective representation of City residents”.
The document, seen by City A.M., claims Pearson could not have had a pecuniary interest in the delegation decision because it could not have resulted in a financial advantage for her or anyone else.
Around 20 councillors have issued messages of support for Pearson to her and the author of the memorandum, which say her treatment by the Corporation was “disgraceful” and “appalling”.
One message read: “What has happened to Susan is quite dreadful. We are volunteers, and we do not deserve to be treated like criminals.”
Another stated that the standards committee had “lost the plot”, while one councillor opined that the Corporation was not legally obliged to have a standards committee and perhaps “we would be better off without one”.
It has also been alleged in the memorandum that after the proposal was defeated in January, Corporation officers failed to disclose that one of the reasons it wanted the decision to be made by Islington was because it was aware there would be “local opposition largely from City residents nearby”.
The standards committee is now trying to pass a new dispensation policy that critics claim will restrict the ability of councillors in residential wards from representing their constituents.
If voted through, the policy will require members, in most instances in which they wish to speak on a matter in which they might hold a pecuniary interest, to fill in a 10-page document to satisfy the standards committee that they should be granted dispensation… a number of council members at the meeting denounced the policy as “restrictive” and an attempt to “throttle democracy”.
“This document is over zealous,” said one councillor. “The committee has taken an Ayatollah approach to dispensations that would disenfranchise resident councillors from speaking on anything to do with their ward.”
Several other councillors, including some of the most senior in the Corporation, had their applications for dispensations either wholly or partly refused as a result of the September decision that barred Pearson from speaking on matters relating to the Golden Lane estate.
At the council meeting, the Corporation’s policy chair Catherine McGuinness said: “Some of the decisions we have seen recently have really raised concerns that views have been gagged unnecessarily and this poses a serious risk to our reputation.”
City of London Corporation caught in ‘gagging’ row after referring resident councillor to City of London Police by Alexandra Rogers, City A.M., 27 November 2018.
We feel it’s worth highlighting Susan Pearson’s observation that: “the standards committee believes that resident members [of the council] need to be told what they can or cannot speak about but there doesn’t seem to be the same focus on members with business interests.” In light of this it is worth reiterating potential conflict of interest issues raised by the national press as regards one planning decision in the City of London:
The story follows a by-now-familiar plot. In May 2017 planning approval was given to Taylor Wimpey, despite strong opposition from local residents and businesses. During this process it emerged that the chair of the City’s planning and transportation committee, Chris Hayward, is a director of Indigo Planning, whose clients include Taylor Wimpey. Deputy chair James Thomson was formerly deputy chief financial officer and chief operations officer of Cushman and Wakefield, commercial property and real estate consultants, which marketed and sold Bernard Morgan House to Taylor Wimpey. The committee member and former lord mayor of London Sir Michael Bear was appointed chair of the planning consultancy Turley Associates – which also acts for Taylor Wimpey – a few weeks after planning approval was granted.
Developers are using culture as a Trojan horse in their planning battles by Anna Minton, The Guardian, 10 October 2017.
These are not the only matters this blog has raised as regards Hayward, Thomson and Bear in their roles at the City of London council – nonetheless it gives a flavour of certain issues many feel the Standards Committee is failing to properly address. Another local paper City Matters took a slightly different tack to City A.M. on the gagging story, choosing to focus on The Barbican more than the Golden Lane Estate, but also broadening the story out to cover other residential areas governed by this local authority:
Politicians fear that strict rules banning them from speaking or voting on issues affecting residents where they live is “throttling democracy”.
A proposed overhaul of the City of London’s policy could see councillors having to fill in a 10-page document for special dispensation to speak if they have a disclosable financial interest in an issue.
Their requests would then be considered and they could appear before a dispensations committee.
Standards committee chairman, Oliver Lodge, said changes could improve “consistency” in considering applications to speak or vote.
He said unlike other councils, decisions are made by committees, rather than individual cabinet members, and the rules help prevent them falling foul of the law.
National rules ban councillors from speaking or voting on issues where they have a financial interest, such as a planning application or measures which could increase the value of their property. Four wards in the City are considered residential, while businesses hold the voting power in the 21 other wards.
Councillors who live at the Barbican, where most of the Square Mile’s 8,000 residents live, complain that they are “gagged” from representing their residents…
Although people who live in the Square Mile attended a recent standards committee meeting to hear the matter discussed, they were not allowed to speak.
Deputy Brian Mooney said: “I am increasingly concerned about the burdens placed on us. We are all volunteers here.
“Every time we want to speak (on issues with a disclosable pecuniary interest) we have to fill in a 10-page form and appear before a committee before we even open our mouths. This is throttling democracy.”
He said the policy and guidance was “overzealous” and added: “Anyone who lives in a residential ward is going to be disenfranchised from what’s going on.”
Councillor Marianne Fredericks, who represents the Tower ward, asked: “Why are you trying to stop residents who live in the City of London from standing up and representing residents? I’m afraid this looks extremely bad to people outside this room. There are people who would like to close us down and get rid of us. You are giving them a loaded gun to get rid of us.”
Catherine McGuinness, who chairs the influential policy and resources committee, said: “There’s a real risk in my mind that residents have been unnecessarily gagged from speaking.”
She said the council had to comply with the law and be more transparent but the issue could damage public confidence….
Christopher Hayward (Broad Street) said there is a huge difference between speaking and voting on an issue.
“Let’s make democracy flourish and let it shine through,” he said.
City councillors ‘gagged’ from representing residents by Julia Gregory, City Matters, 29 November 2018.
City of London Corporation caught in ‘gagging’ row after referring resident councillor to City of London Police by Alexandra Rogers at Internet Archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20181127054230/http://www.cityam.com/269724/city-london-corporation-caught-gagging-row-after-referring
Developers are using culture as a Trojan horse in their planning battles by Anna Minton: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/10/developers-culturehousing-luxury-homes-art-artists
City councillors ‘gagged’ from representing residents by Julia Gregory: https://www.citymatters.london/city-councillors-gagged-representing-residents/