City of London Gives Its Residents The Finger In Ongoing Gagging Row

The row over the gagging of the minority of councillors who actually represent residents in the City of London – as opposed to the majority who are elected by business votes – trundles on and is unlikely to be resolved until there is proper democratic reform of this rotten borough. We certainly aren’t holding our breath for the utterly discredited Standards Committee to begin seeing sense on this matter – –see our previous coverage of some of those involved with it such as Edward Lord and Oliver Lodge. It should also be noted some of those involved in the anti-gagging campaign have already called for the abolition of this committee. The Golden Lane Residents’ Association in their GLERA News for June, datelined 2 June 2019, make the following observations:

Back in April many of us signed the petition declaring ‘no confidence’ in the City’s standard’s regime. This simmering outrage was sparked last year when our resident Councillor, Sue Pearson, was referred to the police for prosecution because she spoke out on residents’ behalf about the City plans to delegate all planning decisions for their COLPAI to Islington.

The Standards Committee have now responded to the petition and it would appear they think there is some ‘confusion’ to clear up. Decide for yourself – read more here.

Please do add your comments to the thread and if you think the response is unsatisfactory email the chair ann.holmes@cityoflondon.gov.uk or the Town Clerk john.barradell@cityoflondon.gov.uk

The current issue of City Matters also covers this issue taking its cue from GLERA but providing a City of London spokesperson with far more space than their risible propaganda deserves:

Golden Lane residents say concerns of “muzzled councillors” are being ignored by the City Corporation.

Earlier this month the Court of Common Council was presented with 1,122 signatures from residents who have “no confidence” in the authority’s current standards policy and practice.

The petition was fuelled by anger sparked when Councillor Sue Pearson, a Golden Lane resident, was referred by the Corporation to the police for speaking out on attempts to delegate the planning decision for the City of London Primary Academy Islington scheme to Islington Council. The law requires a councillor with a financial interest in a matter not to speak and vote on that matter without being granted permission to do so, known as a dispensation.

Now the Golden lane Estate Residents’ Association (GLERA) reports the chair of the standards committee has issues a response, saying there was a need to “clarify some of the issues around which confusion seems to have arisen.”

GLERA chair Tim Godsmark said: “The standards committee is ignoring residents’ opinions, expressed in our petition, and is still trying to muzzle our elected councillors.

“At the same time no similar restrictions are placed on councillors in predominantly business wards (21 out of 25), who are often elected by votes cast by business appointees in only double figures, when they represent business interests. The system needs reform.”

Cllr Graeme Harrower added: “There was no ‘confusion’ on the part of those who signed the petition. The implication of the letter – that the signatories didn’t understand what they were doing – is factually incorrect, and may be regarded as offensive.”

A spokesperson for the City for the City Corporation said: “we seek to ensure the highest ethical standards of behaviour from our councillors and to maintain public confidence in our decision making.

“We have our own code of conduct, and we fully comply with all our legal requirements.

“Following extensive consultation, we have adopted a new policy and guidance on allowing councillors with a financial conflict of interest to speak, and in exceptional cases vote, where the law allows.

“This new policy means councillors with a financial interest in a matter will usually be given dispensations to speak where it is appropriate.

“Far from seeking to limit the representative role of councillors, we have sought to balance the need for effective representation with the need to preserve public confidence in our decisions, and that financial conflicts of interest are properly managed.”

Muzzled councillors’ spat leads to demands for system reform by Anon, City Matters edition 99, 29 May-11 June 2019, page 2.

It should be noted that as far as we are aware, Sue Pearson had no discernible financial interest in the matter she spoke on since how the COLPAI planning decision was achieved would seem to have no bearing on the value of her flat and would provide her with no other financial benefit we are aware of. It is also worth pointing out that those who signed the petition criticising the Standards Committee represent around one sixth of the entire residential electorate in the City of London, so it is a very substantial percentage of residents; especially when it is factored in that rather that being dealt with across all residential areas of the borough, campaigning on the matter has been very much localised to the northern part of the Cripplegate ward.

In the extensive verbiage City Matters cites from a ‘spokesperson for the City for the City Corporation’ one sees the council’s lie machine in action yet again. For example the absurd propaganda claim that this local authority seeks ‘to maintain public confidence’ in its decision making. Anyone who cares to read through this blog or the petition submitted to the Court of Common Council that is the centre piece of the City Matters story, will quickly ascertain that there is a complete lack of confidence on the part of many City of London residents in their local authority. This council cannot maintain public confidence where little exists to start with, but then the spin doctors churning out disinformation for the City of London would soon be out of a job if they dealt with facts, reason and reality.

Likewise, while the City of London spokesperson claims ‘we have our own code of conduct, and we fully comply with all our legal requirements’, this blog was started precisely because of the perception of many local residents in the Cripplegate ward that the council may not have been complying with its legal requirements over conflict of interests issues but if it was, then the legal requirements needed redrafting. As we state on the current version of our About page:

With an enormous amount of effort, community activists managed to get the national media to cover some of the more disturbing aspects of (a story concerning the City of London Planning Committee)… For example, The Guardian reported on the contentious granting of planning permission for Taylor Wimpey’s The Denizen development on the site of Bernard Morgan House:

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.

City of London residents have found themselves consistently stonewalled by the council when they’ve raised potential conflict of interest issues on a variety of subjects. It became apparent that even when concerns were picked up by the national press that unlike Islington, the City of London was not going to listen to its residents – let alone act on what they had to say – because it wasn’t answerable to them. 80% of City of London councillors are elected on undemocratic business votes and this local authority clearly sees its purpose as being global lobbying on behalf of the finance industry and tax havens; it spends millions of pounds on this every year to further the interests of the super-rich and corporations. Not only is this lobbying activity detrimental to most City of London residents, it impacts negatively on billions of people around the world.

If the City of London and its spokespeople wished to be taken seriously by those it fails to serve and in particular the many Cripplegate ward residents who signed the petition calling for reform of its Standards Committee, then they would have addressed the issues that led to this blog being started – potential conflicts of interest – instead of brushing them off. In the same manner and with the same disdain, this utterly undemocratic local authority brushes off the gagging of councillors who attempt to represent the views of local people as ‘justified’ by rules that apparently don’t apply to the majority in its chambers who speak on behalf of the finance and legal industries.

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