Aside from the business vote system, a major focus of the dissatisfaction of City of London residents with the undemocratic set up of their council has been its so-called Standards Committee. One concern has been the gagging of resident elected councillors by an inflexible dispensations policy, while the same committee is apparently unconcerned about potential conflicts of interest on the part of the 80% of councillors undemocratically elected on business votes and representing the interests of the finance and legal industries.
Another big issue has been the willingness of the Standards Committee to allow various freemasonic lodges to meet for free or at discounted rates on council property. Given that as this blog has documented, members of the Guildhall Lodge are massively over-represented in top council posts – such as Lord Mayor – and so are men, these men only lodges should not be allowed to meet on council premises – let alone for free or at discounted rates. This is an equality issue and support for current policies by the likes of Edward Lord completely undermines the myth they are equal opportunity champions. On these issues in their capacity as a member of the Standards Committee, Lord was a staunch defender of patriarchy and vested interest – this was before Lord announced they were non-binary but their support for City of London freemasonry doesn’t seem to have diminished since then and a major shift of position on this is required if they wish to be taken seriously as an equality advocate.
Former Lord Mayor of London Ian Luder in his capacity as an unsuccessful UKIP parliamentary candidate.
These two particular issues undermining the credibility of the Standards Committee have until now appeared to be separate matters but it seems they have been brought together in the shape of former Lord Mayor and Guildhall Lodge member Ian Luder. Resident elected councillor for Cripplegate Sue Pearson has been blogging about attempts to prevent her for speaking and voting at council meetings on the Golden Lane Estate Residents Association website for some time, a couple of weeks ago she brought up what appears to be an attack on her probity by Luder.
At the meeting of the Court of Common Council in July, Alderman Ian Luder put a “question” to the Chair of the Standards Committee that attempted to cast a slur on my character by insinuating that I was engaging in some kind of criminal activity.
His “question” was as follows:
“Could the Chairman of the Standards Committee confirm the rumours that a Member has made a claim for rights of light arising from the construction of COLPAI*. If so, has the claim been settled, and would the Chairman agree that this indicates a disclosable pecuniary interest is engaged?”
The answer should have been that a member’s “pecuniary interest” is only relevant if it is “engaged” when a member participates in a discussion or vote in a Court or committee meeting about that matter. It is not relevant to a member claiming or receiving compensation from the Corporation in a private capacity.
The Standards Chair, however, gave an opaque answer, having first provided sufficient detail to the Court for me to be readily identified as the member who was the subject of Alderman Luder’s “question”.
The rules governing meetings of the Court did not allow me to make a statement in response to his “question”, but did permit me to ask a supplementary question, which was as follows:
“I’m the unnamed member to whom the question refers.
I would like to thank those members who warned me about this question by our most senior alderman, who did not check the facts with me before speaking.
My interest in my flat in Golden Lane Estate was duly registered upon my being elected.
I have not yet received any compensation for the loss of light to my flat resulting from the Corporation’s COLPAI development. I was advised by letter from the Corporation that I may be able to claim compensation, and am seeking to do so.
Any compensation that I may receive will be due to me in my private capacity, and unconnected with my public office.
COLPAI rights of light has only been raised in one committee meeting I have attended. It arose as a procurement issue in the meeting of the Community and Children’s Service Committee on 8 February this year. As the minutes of that meeting show, I made a declaration, and did not speak or vote, this being a rare matter in which I had an actual – rather than imaginary – pecuniary interest.
I believe in democratic representation and transparency. My question to the Chair is whether she will make these the guiding principles of the reform of our standards regime?”
The Standards Chair, in response to my supplementary question, did not confirm that she would make democratic representation and transparency the guiding principles of standards reform.
Following the meeting, I wrote to Alderman Luder asking him to explain why he had asked the “question”. Why, in particular, did he insinuate – in the most public forum possible – that an identifiable fellow councillor might have engaged in criminal activity when he had no ground for believing this?
He has not replied.
I have since made a complaint about Alderman Luder’s conduct to Alderman David Wootton, Chair of the General Purposes Committee of Aldermen, and asked him:
– to identify any other member who has made such a remark, and extend the complaint to anyone identified;
– why no Alderman present at the Court meeting had spoken out to dissociate the Court of Aldermen from their colleague’s behaviour
– whether, at the Aldermen’s private meeting before the Court, any Alderman tried to dissuade Alderman Luder from putting his “question”.
I have also written to the Standards Chair, Councillor Ann Holmes, saying that I think her opaque answer gave the impression that there was substance to the implication of Alderman Luder’s “question”, and that this cast a slur on my character as well as his “question”.
I have asked her to make a statement at the next Court meeting on 12 September to set the record straight.
Alderman insinuates that I’m a criminal by Sue Pearson, GLERA website, 23 August 2019: https://web.archive.org/web/20190903231432/http://www.goldenlaneestate.org/profiles/blogs/alderman-insinuates-that-i-m-a-criminal
Luder became a laughing stock as the Lord Mayor who had a spat with a neighbour over a cat, something covered by the national media and even included in his Wikipedia entry:
In 2008, Luder and his wife were involved in a dispute with their neighbours over the neighbours’ cat, with the UK newspaper The Daily Mail writing: ““Not since Dick Whittington has a cat caused such a stir for a Lord Mayor.” Apparently the Luders had refused their neighbors’ request to stop feeding the animal, who was overweight and had a heart condition, and in fact had shut the cat in their home for 36 hours while they were away. https://web.archive.org/web/20190903231837/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Luder
Luder is also notorious for generating headlines such as Lord Mayor denied knighthood after backing bankers’ bonuses (Daily Telegraph). While Luder is not a member of the Standards Committee right now, given the ongoing questions we and others have been raising about its positions on and connections to City of London masonry, he presumably knew that by asking the loaded question Sue Pearson reports, he was going to raise eye-brows given his declaration of interests as a councillor states he is a member of the Guildhall Lodge. Moving on, the issue of the Standards Committee and the gagging of councillors elected by residents has been the subject of extensive debate on the GLERA website and elsewhere recently – we will reproduce some more of that below in the notes.
The header shows Ian David Luder and his wife Lin Luder with current British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and others.
*City of London Primary Academy Islington – a new school currently under construction on the border between the City of London and Islington at the north end of the Golden Lane Estate.
Ian Luder’s register of interests declaring his membership of the Guildhall Lodge: https://web.archive.org/web/20190831123137/http://democracy.cityoflondon.gov.uk/mgDeclarationSubmission.aspx?UID=296&HID=3232&FID=0&HPID=509852442
Lord Mayor denied knighthood after backing bankers’ bonuses by Philip Aldrick, Daily Telegraph, 27 December 2009: https://web.archive.org/web/20150126051754/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/6896337/Lord-Mayor-denied-knighthood-after-backing-bankers-bonuses.html
The CLERA website has over the summer carried the above section on its front page, to highlight posts critical of the City of London Standards Committee, which from the point of view of residents is not merely substandard but has no credibility whatsoever. From: http://www.goldenlaneestate.org/
Extract of email sent on 15 July 2019 from Councillor Sue Pearson to the Standards Committee
“The current dispensations policy – which claims to “maintain public confidence” – was demolished three months ago when, in a petition, residents demonstrated that the policy had the opposite effect. The public’s view of an acceptable dispensations policy was recently articulated in four identical requests for general dispensations which the Dispensations Sub-Committee refused without properly considering.
Last week saw a new low in the operation of our standards regime. The Corporation is now failing to comply with its own procedure under the policy. Paragraph 9 provides that the Standards Committee “will not normally refuse a request simply on the basis that a dispensation is not thought to be necessary”. At 4.33 pm on Friday 5 July I received the agenda for a committee meeting on Friday 12 July that contained an item on which I expected to have to vote in the interest of my constituents. By start of business on Monday 8 July, the Standards Committee had received from me a second request for a general dispensation referring specifically to this matter, as a reason for urgency. By the time of the committee meeting on Friday 12 July, I had received neither a grant nor a refusal of my request, although I had actively pursued it in the meantime.
The Standards Chair indicated during the week that “this application is not urgent and will, therefore, be held over to a later meeting of a dispensations sub-committee”. Apart from the statement being wrong – the matter was obviously urgent – it seems that another failure to comply with the Corporation’s own procedure is currently occurring. The policy does not provide that the Dispensations Sub-Committee is only convened to deal with urgent applications, as implied by the Standards Chair’s statement. A justification for having so many members on the Standards Committee is to have enough to convene a Dispensations Sub-Committee at short notice. There is, therefore, no good reason why that sub-committee should not be convened within the next week or two (a week has already passed) to consider properly my outstanding request for a general dispensation. The sub-committee could, at the same time, consider properly the requests for the same general dispensation that three other councillors have resubmitted.
I ask the Standards Chair to arrange a meeting of the sub-committee for this purpose before the end of the month.”
I have been told that my application will now be looked at in September.
More dealings with the Standards Committee by Sue Pearson, GLERA website 23 July 2019: https://web.archive.org/web/20190903233706/http://www.goldenlaneestate.org/profiles/blogs/more-dealings-with-the-standards-committee
Cllr Graeme Harrower (member for the business ward of Bassishaw) has long been concerned about the anti-resident bias of the Standards Committee. He supported me (Sue Pearson) through the Standards Hearing that I had to endure last year (2018) and is a persistent advocate for residents’ rights and Standards Committee reform. Below his latest emails to the Court of Common Council on the matter.
EMAIL FROM CLLR HARROWER THE COURT OF COMMON COUNCIL ON 17 JULY 2019
Subject: Secret Standards
I’ve discovered that shortly before its composition changed last April, the Standards Committee held a secret meeting to discuss imposing further restrictions on members. I’ve sent an email about this to the current Standards Chair, who was Deputy Chair at the time. May I suggest that when she presents the annual review of the committee’s achievements to the Court tomorrow, she takes that opportunity to provide a short response to this latest disclosure. To assist her, I’ve drafted a response, based on what some members of that committee seem to think. Here it is:
(a) the Court should not interfere with the activities of the Standards Committee;
(b) it is entirely proper for the Standards Committee to hold meetings out of sight of other members, the officers and the public to discuss imposing further restrictions on members;
(c) any member who questions this doesn’t have a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the “openness” and “accountability” Principles of Public Life, and should be subject to the further restrictions discussed; and
(d) in any case, everything the Standards Committee does is (in the words of her predecessor) “properly and fairly handled”.
With these assurances, we can go into the summer break secure in the knowledge that our current standards regime seeks (in the words of our PR department) “to ensure the highest ethical standards of behaviour from our councillors and to maintain public confidence in our decision making” – except in the opinion of the public, as represented by the City’s residents. It is true that residents are the only engaged section of our electorate, because most City workers don’t know or care who we are. But it is the well-considered opinion of a section of our Honourable Court that residents are a vexatious impediment to the City Corporation putting its status as a public authority at the service of private commercial interests.
I hope it will not be considered presumptuous of me to suggest that the leadership of our Honourable Court presents a motion at our September meeting to abolish our residential electorate. That would be a quick and easy way of solving the problems concerning our standards regime. Not, of course, that those problems actually exist. They are obviously the fabrication of:
– a member who sends “endless emails” to pursue a “personal vendetta”;
– a councillor from a housing estate who refuses to acknowledge that representing her long suffering fellow residents should be subordinated to her “erring on the side of caution” in the face of imaginary interpretations of rules that exist only to prevent councillors from making money out of public office;
– some members who have expressed support because they are independently minded, and therefore fail to share the traditional ethos of the members of the Corporation acting in unity; and
– last, and least, the City residents, who are (in the words of the Standards Chair) “confused”, and therefore didn’t know what they were doing when many of them signed the standards reform petition.
Domine dirige nos.
* * * * * * *
EXTRACT FROM AN EMAIL FROM CLLR HARROWER TO THE COURT OF COMMON COUNCIL ON 25 JULY 2019
Summary of unanswered points raised about the current “standards” regime
(1) The current dispensations policy is largely based on a perception of “public confidence” which the residents’ petition has proved to be entirely wrong. The residents are the public, and they have declared that they have no confidence in our current standards regime, including the dispensations policy.
The Standards Chair has repeatedly ignored this critical point. In her speech [at the Court meeting on 18 July] she made two comments that were either irrelevant or cast false doubt on the validity of the views expressed in the petition.
She said that “well over 90% of the petitioners came from the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates”. But what point was she trying to make? A large majority of the petitioners came from the Barbican and Golden Lane Estates because that is where a large majority of the City’s residents live.
She went on to say that “the only response I received came jointly from the Chairs of the Barbican Association and the Golden Lane Estate Residents’ Association”. These two associations represent a large majority of the City’s residents, and rejected her position that the residents were “confused”.
She need not look only to representative associations to know the views of residents. Residents expressed their views strongly at the ward mote resolutions of the two largest residential wards, and at the annual residents’ meeting on 8 May which she herself attended.
Ignoring the fact that the public has no confidence in the current dispensations policy, and that this policy consequently has no future, is not a tenable position to take.
(2) Requests made by four resident members for “general” dispensations to speak and vote on matters that do not affect them uniquely or more than other residents were rejected without proper consideration by the Dispensations Sub-Committee.
The Standards Chair said in her speech that this “tiny minority of members….seem to believe that they’re entitled” to “create their own personalised policy”. The four members made clear in their requests that the terms of the “general” dispensations they sought reflected what the public had called for in the petition. So it was the public speaking to the Dispensations Sub-Committee through those members, not the members trying to create a “personalised policy” for themselves.
The City Solicitor advised the Dispensations Sub-Committee that it was not bound by the current policy in considering those requests. The sub-committee, though, ignored all the points made by the members in support of being granted “general dispensations”. The members resubmitted identical requests because their original ones had not been properly considered. The “unnecessary workload for our officers” was caused by the Dispensations Sub-Committee failing to consider the requests properly the first time.
(3) The Corporation recently failed to comply with its own procedure under the current dispensations policy by neither granting nor refusing a dispensation sought by a member in a recent urgent case, thus leaving the member at risk of prosecution if the member took a different view from the City Solicitor on whether a DPI was engaged.
The Standards Chair has not addressed this point.
(4) In the same recent urgent case, the City Solicitor’s office declined to express a view on the scope of section 618 of the Housing Act 1985 (from which no dispensation to vote can be sought), thus leaving the member at risk of prosecution if the member took a different view from the City Solicitor on the scope of that section.
The Standards Chair has not addressed this point.
(5) It was pointed out to the Standards Committee ten months ago that section 618 belongs to a statutory regime that has long since abolished and its own repeal appears to have been overlooked, but the committee has taken no action to propose its repeal.
The Standards Chair said in her speech that “I know some members consider it desirable to abolish section 618….they are at liberty to bring this matter to this Court.” Is this not a technical matter that the Standards Committee and the relevant officers ought to be dealing with (which is a reason for retaining the Standards Committee, at least temporarily)? And how could anyone not consider it “desirable” to seek the repeal of redundant legislation that restricts democratic representation in the City?
(6) On 3 April 2019, and before the partial change in membership of the Standards Committee, the committee held a secret meeting to discuss imposing further restrictions on members.
The Standards Chair has not addressed how holding a secret meeting accords with the “openness” and “accountability” Principles of Public Life, or how the further restrictions discussed in that meeting – including on the use of email by members to communicate – can be justified.
In her speech, the Standards Chair made a cryptic remark about a “need to make changes….which will prevent current unacceptable behaviours”. What are those behaviours?
(7) Why is the “selflessness” Principle of Public Life invoked to restrict resident members from voting on matters that do not affect them uniquely or more than other resident constituents, but not invoked to restrict business members from voting on any matters unless those matters affect them uniquely or more than their business constituents (e.g. on the Planning Committee)?
The Standards Chair has not addressed this point.
The Standards Committee is familiar with all the points summarised above. It is time for it to address each of them properly.
Regards, Graeme Harrower
Cllr Graeme Harrower supporting residents’ right to proper representation by Sue Pearson and Graeme Harrower, CLERA website 16 August 16 2019: https://web.archive.org/web/20190903234546/http://www.goldenlaneestate.org/profiles/blogs/secret-standards-committee-meeting
Letter to Standards Committee from two City of London resident associations.
City residents’ dismay at response to petition on the standards regime
9 August 2019
Dear Members of the Standards Committee
We are writing on behalf of our associations (which represent a majority of residents in the City) to express our unhappiness at the response to the residents’ petition on the standards regime.
The chair of the Standards Committee told us we were confused and responded to our request for a meeting by saying we should wait for October and an officers’ report.
A more constructive response –and one that recognised that there are real concerns behind the petition –would have been to have an early meeting with residents to understand those underlying concerns and take account of them in any report.
This is particularly so because of the structural imbalance against residents inherent in the City’s constitution and voting structures. Given that, and an intention not to disadvantage residents, we would expect the Standards Committee to be particularly sensitive to residents’ complaints of feeling disenfranchised.
We make five points.
Firstly, we would like the City to adopt a much less elaborate policy and process in relation to granting dispensations to residential councillors to speak and vote on matters in which they may have a pecuniary interest. In particular,
- a) The City should trust members to act in accordance with the law –and assume that they will. We are aware of no cases in which a residential councillor in the City has used their office to speak or vote on a matter in order to obtain financial advantage for themselves –and be assured their electors would criticise them heavily were they to do so.
- b) The dispensations policy should acknowledge that the law does allow members to be granted dispensations to both speak and vote on matters in which they have a pecuniary interest. It is the City’s decision not to allow members to vote in these circumstances, not the requirement of the law and not the expectation of the public.
- c) So the policy should enable a member, on application, to be granted a dispensation for their term of office to speak and vote on any matter that affects their constituents where they have a pecuniary interest as long as it does not affect them uniquely or more than any other of their constituents (and isn’t prevented (for voting) by section 618 of the Housing Act 1985 until that is repealed).
If the Standards Committee is unwilling to consider this, then we would ask the City to set up a separate inquiry, with external experts, to draw up a reasonable policy and process.
Secondly, we would like the City to seek to repeal section 618 of the Housing Act 1985, which imposes a restriction on City residential councillors that does not apply to any other local authority in the UK, and hence clearly disenfranchises City residents uniquely. We believe it is agreed that this section preceded the Localism Act 2011 and was intended to ameliorate even more draconian restrictions that applied at the time. Since the Localism Act 2011 came in, this section is no longer needed. If the City is serious about not wanting to disenfranchise its residents, getting this section repealed would give some concrete evidence of that desire. Otherwise, we can only conclude that the City isn’t bothered that its residents feel disenfranchised and would like to maintain that position.
Thirdly, we would like to understand more about how the policy was developed and the reasons for some elements in it. For example, at the Court meeting in December, an amendment was submitted “Amendment –That the Motion be altered to include the words “when the DPI is a lease or tenancy from the City Members may vote when the matter does not relate particularly to the Members’ lease or tenancy”.”
This was withdrawn on the understanding that this proposal “be considered by the Standards Committee as part of their review.”
We have seen no evidence in the minutes of Standards Committee meetings or in their reports that the Standards Committee did consider this matter. We would like to understand why not, even though this point would be covered by a “general” dispensation.
We were surprised incidentally to see in papers for the May meeting that at an informal meeting the Committee complained about the “perceived disrespect shown to the Standards Committee”. And “Members felt that a negative culture towards the work of the Standards Committee had developed.”
We think this is an extraordinary statement for a committee of a local authority consisting of elected members to make. The committee exists to serve the people of the City of London –and if a substantial number of those people (in this case residents) do not feel that the Standards Committee is acting fairly towards them they have every right to criticise them. The criticisms were voiced not simply by residents and their elected members; a fair number of other councillors voiced concerns about the hard line the Standards Committee was taking over dispensations for residents. In a democratic system, it is unusual to see elected members wilt in the face of legitimate criticism.
Fourthly, we also do not understand why there does “not have to be a financial impact on a member in order for that member to be prohibited from participating in a particular item of business.”(para 4).
On the one hand, the Localism Act is about pecuniary interests. So why is the City extending it beyond pecuniary effects? On the other hand, if the Standards Committee is serious about making the Localism Act’s prohibitions against speaking and voting apply when no financial effects are envisaged, then that opens up the possibility of infinite challenges to all members’ “interests”.
Finally, there have been several “tests” of the new system since it came in in March 2019, and the chair of the Standards Committee suggests that we should wait to see their outcome. From the decisions that the Standards Committee has made since then, we are not reassured that much has changed. That is another reason why we would like to meet the chair of the committee to discuss these matters before the report to their October meeting is finalised.
Ironically, the conclusion of the informal meeting of the Standards Committee that “The Standards Committee is concerned that the public criticism and lack of support shown it by the Court, could lead to a significant reputational risk to the Corporation” has to be correct. But not, as the committee thinks, because the Court has not backed it (rightly or wrongly) – but because the Standards Committee has shown no sign of understanding the criticism and why residents still feel disenfranchised. If City residents have fewer democratic rights than those who live elsewhere in the UK, that has to put the City at some reputational risk.
So, again, given that your chair has acknowledged that there are issues to resolve, we would welcome a meeting with her to discuss them.
Yours sincerely Jane Smith Chair, Barbican Association
Tim Godsmark Chair, Golden Lane Estate Residents Association
Cc Members for Aldersgate and Cripplegate Wards, Chair of Policy and Resources, Town Clerk, City Solicitor
‘Gagging’ of our resident Common Councillors
MPORTANT – OPEN TO THE PUBLIC: as a result of the issues outlined below the Standards Committee has scheduled a meeting for September 6 at 11.30 am, Committee Rooms in the Guildhall.
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.
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.’ Many residents would now welcome an explanation from Cllr Durcan as it is difficult to view her voting action as anything but a betrayal.
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 (see below) 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
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 (see above): Letter to standards committee 9 August 2019
The Standards Committee has now, following a request from some of the newer members, scheduled an additional meeting for September 6 at 11.30 in the Committee Rooms in the Guildhall. All residents can attend this meeting to hear what the committee members have to say.
‘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
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.
Dispensations Sub-Committee fails the test by Graeme Harrower with supplementary material by councillor Mark Bostock
This afternoon I sat in the “public gallery” for a meeting of the Dispensations Sub-Committee of the Standards Committee. This sub-committee considered test dispensation requests made by four resident councillors from three wards.
What was the test?
On 7 June, Mark Bostock, a resident councillor for Cripplegate ward, made a dispensation request to the Standards Committee. The text of his email is set out in the document pack for the sub-committee meeting today, but for convenience it is reproduced below. The terms of the general dispensation he was seeking reflected what City residents had called for in their petition two months ago. His request was therefore a perfect test of the current dispensations policy.
Three other resident councillors subsequently submitted dispensation requests in terms similar to Mark’s, reinforcing this test of the policy.
How was the test failed?
The Dispensations Sub-Committee refused to grant any of the general dispensations sought.
At the beginning of the meeting, the City Solicitor advised the sub-committee that “policy is a relevant matter, but you can depart from it”. The sub-committee, though, showed no inclination to depart from the current dispensations policy.
Most of that policy goes far beyond what the law requires, and can be justified only on the basis that it “maintains public confidence in our decision making”. When the petition was presented two months ago, however, it was clear that the policy had the opposite effect, as Mark pointed out in his email (below). The petition contained a declaration of no confidence in the current standards regime, and indicated what dispensations policy would maintain public confidence. That indication was reflected in the four test dispensation requests.
The sub-committee refused these requests because they did not comply with a policy that had been shown to be fundamentally flawed two months earlier. That is as logical as it would have been for the owner of the Titanic to have taken bookings two months after the ship had sunk.
A member of the public sitting next to me observed at the end of the meeting that the sub-committee had not addressed most of the points made in the requests for general dispensations. Members of the sub-committee referred to these requests as having “no parameters” and being for a “blank cheque”, but that was plainly not so. None of the four councillors sought a dispensation for a matter that affected them uniquely or more than any of their constituents, but this fundamental point was not discussed by the sub-committee at all.
The chair of the sub-committee remarked twice that representing constituents was not a “sufficient” reason for a councillor to be granted a dispensation. That does not seem to accord with the statutory ground for a dispensation being granted “in the interest of persons living in the authority’s area”.
Another member was concerned about granting a general dispensations because that would involve a judgment being made by an individual councillor, and not by the Dispensation Sub-Committee. On this point I refer to the final paragraph of Mark’s email (below).
What should happen next?
The chair of the Standards Committee has refused to take any action in response to the petition until the scheduled meeting of that committee on 4 October, for two reasons:
(a) to allow time for the current dispensations policy to be “tested”; and
(b) to receive a report from officers at that meeting.
Regarding (a), the policy was tested even before it formally took effect on 1 March, and failed. The refusal to grant a dispensation to a resident councillor to vote on a planning matter concerning three trees owned by a local authority was ridiculed by several councillors at the relevant Planning Committee meeting. The policy was today comprehensively tested against what the public want, as expressed in the petition, and failed comprehensively. There is no point in repeating the pattern of test and failure over the next three months.
Regarding (b), what is relevant to the dispensations policy is public confidence, not officers’ confidence. In any case, the dispensations policy is – in the words of the City Solicitor – “a political issue to be determined by members within the legal framework” [which is permissive for the sake of democracy]. So there is no point in waiting three months for an officers’ report.
The obvious next step is one that should have been taken two months ago, namely, for the Standards Committee to meet and address the residents’ demands for “immediate and fundamental reform”.
Finally, it is worth considering how and why the Dispensations Sub-Committee that met today was composed.
How was the Dispensations Sub-Committee composed?
A Dispensations Sub-Committee is convened to consider requests for dispensations, and is composed of:
– three of the twelve elected members of the Standards Committee; and
– one of the (currently) three co-opted (i.e. unelected) members of that committee.
The Dispensations Sub-Committee that was convened for the purposes of today’s meeting included two elected members, Caroline Addy and Jeremy Simons, and one co-opted member, Judith Barnes, who did not attend. All three had sat on the Standards Committee when the current dispensations policy was developed. They were part of a committee that saw nothing wrong with denying resident councillors the right even to speak on matters which affected their constituents and in which they might have a declared interest. The committee was compelled by the Court to change this aspect of the policy last December, but the rest of the policy remained largely in place, based on a misperception of “public confidence”.
The third elected member of the Dispensations Sub-Committee was Mary Durcan, a resident councillor for Cripplegate ward, who joined the Standards Committee after the current dispensations policy had been introduced. At the Cripplegate ward mote in March, when the petition was signed by all her constituents present, she signed it herself. At the meeting of the Dispensations Sub-Committee today, however, she voted to refuse the general dispensation requests, although they reflected precisely what the petition called for.
Why was the Dispensations Sub-Committee so composed?
Three of the new members of the Standards Committee who have consistently supported standards reform – Randall Anderson, Barbara Newman and Henry Colthurst – were deemed not to be eligible to be members of the Dispensations Sub-Committee that met today, because:
(a) the terms of reference of the sub-committee (approved last October) exclude from its membership any member of the Standards Committee who sits on a committee that will consider matters to which the dispensation request relates; and
(b) they sit on the Planning Committee.
The rule in (a) goes beyond both law and reason. Why should a member of the Standards Committee be excluded from membership of the Dispensations Sub-Committee merely because he or she happens to sit on another committee, and the dispensation request happens to relate to a matter that will be considered by that other committee?
This rule operates mainly against resident members of the Standards Committee, because dispensation requests are invariably made by resident councillors, and resident councillors tend to sit on committees – like Community and Children’s Services and Barbican Residential – that are particularly relevant to their constituents. It is another example of anti-resident bias in the current standards regime.
Even if one accepts that this rule should be followed until it is abolished, it was not followed in this case. The three members mentioned do sit on the Planning Committee, but the dispensation requests were of a general nature, and not just for planning matters. The requests covered matters considered by any committee, including the Community and Children’s Services Committee and the Barbican Residential Committee. Mary Durcan sits on both of them, so if the rule had been followed, she too would have been excluded from membership of the Dispensations Sub-Committee. So also would its other two elected members, because they both sit on the Port Health and Environmental Services Committee, which regularly considers matters of particular relevance to residents (like noisy construction work on Saturdays, and air quality).
A standards regime that has flawed dispensation rules which are followed selectively is in obvious need of “immediate and fundamental reform”, to quote the petition.
Regards, Graeme Harrower
TEXT OF AN EMAIL OF 7 JUNE FROM MARK BOSTOCK TO THE STANDARDS COMMITTEE
I am writing to request a dispensation, under section 33 of the Localism Act 2011 (the “Act”), to speak and vote on the matters in which I may have a “pecuniary interest” as described below.
I have chosen not to use the 10-page form produced by the Standards Committee for this purpose as the Act refers only to a “written request” being made, and does not require it to be in any prescribed form. The form produced by the Standards Committee, in my view, contains a fair amount of material that is not properly relevant to the consideration of my request.
For example, section A of the form asks for an explanation as to how granting a dispensation “would not risk damaging public confidence in the conduct of the City Corporation’s business.” Since the form was produced, it has been demonstrated, through a well supported residents’ petition and representations made by the City’s two largest residential associations, that:
(a) the policy of the Standards Committee which is reflected in the form has actually damaged public confidence; and
(b) the public expects their elected representatives to be free to speak and vote on their behalf, within the framework of the law.
I am advised that the law provides for a dispensation to be granted to speak and vote equally. It does not provide for a dispensation to vote to be granted “only in exceptional circumstances”, as the Standards Committee’s policy specifies in section B of their form. The law provides very broad grounds for a dispensation to be granted, including “the interest of persons living in the authority’s area” (section 33(2)(c)). A dispensation need only be granted to speak and vote on a matter in which a member has a “pecuniary interest”. The law, it seems, thus gives primacy to democratic representation over a member’s “pecuniary interest”. It is only when a member is not representing others, but is acting solely in his or her own interests, that the ground mentioned above for granting a dispensation would not apply, and a dispensation, therefore, should not be granted.
Disclosable Pecuniary interest
I have the following “disclosable pecuniary interests” for the purpose of the Act:
(a) a long lease that my wife and I hold in a flat at 815 Frobisher Crescent in the Barbican Estate; and
(b) a lease of a store in the Barbican Estate.
These interests have been published in my register of interests.
Request for a dispensation
I hereby request a dispensation for the remainder of my term of office (which ends in March 2021) to speak and vote on any matter which affects my constituents and in which I may have a “pecuniary interest”, except for a matter which:
(a) affects me uniquely or more than any of my constituents; and
(b) insofar as regards a dispensation to vote only, falls within the restriction imposed by section 618 of the Housing Act 1985 for as long as that provision remains on the statute book;
on the grounds that the grant of this dispensation is in “the interest of persons living in the authority’s area”.
There is some urgency about this request, as I shall be attending meetings of the following committees at which matters will be decided in which, it may be argued, I have a “pecuniary interest”:
(a) the Barbican Residential Committee on Monday 17 June, at which a “charging policy for car parking and stores” will be decided (as noted above, I have a lease of a store in the Barbican Estate); and
(b) the Planning and Transportation Committee on Tuesday 18 June, at which a planning application (18/00335/LBC) will be considered for the installation of replacement illuminated signs in the upper level walkway at Defoe Place (close to the residential flats at the western end of Frobisher Crescent; my flat is in the middle of the Crescent).
Each of these matters falls squarely within the dispensation requested, as it affects a number of my constituents no less than myself. In the case of (a) above, I may speak but not vote, because of the restriction on voting in section 618 of the Housing Act 1985.
In addition to the general comments made in the “Introduction” above, I wish to add the following:-
I am advised that the law provides that a dispensation may be granted for up to 4 years (the length of a councillor’s term of office). I am therefore requesting a dispensation for the remainder of my current term (21 months). This will achieve parity with many other local authorities.
If a matter arises in which I have a “pecuniary interest” and which is covered by any dispensation granted, it does not necessarily follow that I will actually speak or vote on it. In any particular case, I would use my judgment as a member as to what would be appropriate. Neither I, nor any other member, need to be directed by a small number of fellow members on the Standards Committee as to how to act as a Councillor. A majority of our members are elected in predominantly business wards. This may have caused the previous Standards Committee to have so misjudged “public perception” on which it claimed to have based most of the current policy. That committee seemed to think that the public would favour a heavily restrictive approach, whereas the opposite has now been proved to be true.
With regards, Mark Bostock
Dispensations Sub-Committee fails the test by Graeme Harrower, GLERA website, 7 July 2019: https://web.archive.org/web/20190903235702/http://www.goldenlaneestate.org/forum/topics/dispensations-sub-committee-fails-the-test