Labour calls for no confidence vote in Council Leader after damning report on governance failures

Labour councillors have called for an Extraordinary Council meeting after a damning independent report was published yesterday into June's shambolic Annual Council Meeting and the constitutional crisis that followed where the decision-making process in Barnet ground to a halt because committees were not properly constituted at the Annual Meeting.

The independent report states that:

  • There is no-one who understands local government law in depth at Barnet. Barnet employs no lawyers.
  • There are staff in key roles in the Governance structure in Barnet who are inexperienced in governance matters.
  • There was no clear protocol for clearing council reports through taking external legal or other specialist advice.
  • Barnet was moving to a very different Constitution at the Annual Council and needed to have given detailed consideration to the implications of moving back to the Committee system. It is not just a question of making amendments to the Constitution.
  • Legal Advice was requested on both the reports, but was not forthcoming on either in time for them to be printed. No-one at Barnet queried this or noticed anything was wrong.

Barnet’s legal service was outsourced through a shared service agreement with Harrow Council under the One Barnet mass-privatisation programme in April 2012 on the basis that it would save money and provide greater flexibility and capacity to manage the council’s legal work more efficiently. But the independent report suggests that Barnet does not have “access to pro-active professional and expert advice at all relevant times” and that “the clienting of the HBPL service has had no professional legal input looking at the quality of legal advice given for 18 months”. Last month’s performance data also shows the outsourced service is currently overspent by £138,000 or 7.7% of the overall budget.

The Cabinet Resources report from the Leader of the Council that recommended the outsourcing also states that “Governance arrangements will be developed to enable this council to have strategic oversight of the Joint Legal Service…”, but the independent report findings show this hasn’t happened.

The council was supposed to have appointed a legally qualified person to monitor the contract with Harrow Council according to the Inter Authority Agreement but this did not happen either.

Authorisation of the Inter-Authority Agreement with Harrow Council was delegated to the Leader of the Council and Deputy Leader of the Council.  This authorisation was formally published in an officer delegated powers report which was exempt from call-in by scrutiny.

Legal services were outsourced within a very short timescale – only 4 months after the proposal first appeared on the One Barnet Programme highlight report in December 2011.

Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Alison Moore said: “The current legal and governance service is clearly not fit for purpose, but it was the Leader of the Council who proposed outsourcing legal services in the first place, who authorised the final detailed agreement with Harrow Council, and who proposed and has presided over the introduction of the council’s new committee system.

"In addition, the Chief Executive needs to answer for the failure to ensure that there was sufficient in-house legally qualified oversight of the outsourced legal service, and the failure to ensure that councillors and the council were provided with correct legal advice.

"In my view both should go, but the buck has to stop with the Leader, so we have called an extraordinary council meeting to debate this issue - it is too important to be left to a single committee and all councillors should have an input into the way forward."

Notes:

1. A copy of the independent report into the Annual Meeting can be found here:

http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=692&MId=7862&Ver=4

2. The Leader’s Report recommending Legal Services are outsourced:

http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/Data/Cabinet%20Resources%20Committee/201204042000/Agenda/Document%203.pdf

 3. A copy of the Delegated Powers Report authorising the Inter Authority Agreement:

http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s5263/1777%20-%20Legal%20Shared%20Service%20with%20the%20London%20Borough%20of%20Harrow.pdf

4. The latest performance data on HB Public Law can be found here:

http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s17105/Quarter%201%20Budget%20and%20Performance%20Monitoring%20201415.pdf

5. Labour’s call for an Extra-ordinary Council meeting:

Dear Mr Mayor,

I am formally calling for an Extraordinary Council meeting to discuss the independent investigation and report into the Annual Meeting. The call for an Extraordinary Meeting is supported by the rest of the Labour Group four members of whom will also email you in support of calling it.

I enclose the motion for the meeting below. Please will you confirm when the meeting will be held.

Yours,

Cllr Alison Moore

Barnet Labour Group Leader and Leader of the Opposition

Annual Council 2014 – External Investigation

Council notes the damning findings of the external investigation into the shambolic Annual Meeting on 2 June including that:

  • There is no-one who understands local government law in depth at Barnet. Barnet employs no lawyers.
  • There are staff in key roles in the Governance structure in Barnet who are inexperienced in governance matters.
  • There was no clear protocol for clearing council reports through taking external legal or other specialist advice.
  • Barnet was moving to a very different Constitution at the Annual Council and needed to have given detailed consideration to the implications of moving back to the Committee system. It is not just a question of making amendments to the Constitution.
  • Legal Advice was requested on both the political proportionality report and the members’ allowances report, but was not forthcoming on either in time for them to be printed. No-one at Barnet queried this or noticed anything was wrong.
  • Barnet council does not have access to pro-active professional and expert advice at all relevant times and,
  • The clienting of the Harrow Barnet Public Law service has had no professional legal input looking at the quality of legal advice given for 18 months.

Council notes that this resulted in the complete break-down of decision-making in Barnet over the summer and in serious reputational damage and risk to the council.

Council notes that the proposal to outsource the legal service was in the name of the Leader of the Council, that it was the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council who authorised the final detailed Inter Authority Agreement with Harrow for the outsourced legal service, and that it was the Leader of the Council who proposed and presided over the introduction of the new committee system.

Council notes that Barnet still has no say in how the shared legal service with Harrow is managed and developed, and that this rushed outsourcing experiment has been a complete failure, with the service still overspending after a year and a half.

Council therefore calls for legal services to be brought back in house, and for the Monitoring Officer post to be filled by an experienced legally qualified person.

Council also calls for a vote of no confidence in the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council.

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