Labour refer external investigation to Full Council

Labour councillors have referred the external investigation into legal and governance failures up to Full Council after the Conservatives refused to accept their proposals to bring legal services back-in house and review all council decisions since Barnet ceased to have a legally qualified Monitoring Officer.

Last night's Policy & Resources Committee discussed the findings of the external investigation report which said that "there is no-one who understands local government law in depth at Barnet" and the "unravelling of the decision-making structure caused Barnet to be mocked in the local press with headlines using words such as 'disgrace' and 'chaos'."

Labour councillors made the following proposals at the committee last night: 

  • That legal services are brought back-in house
  • That the vacant Monitoring Officer post must be filled by a legally qualified person, and this must be specified in the job description and job advert
  • That pending legal services being brought back in-house the recommendations of the external report that strengthen Barnet’s legal and governance arrangements are agreed
  • That high-level in-house legal support is introduced in Barnet pending legal services being brought back-in house
  • That all decisions taken since Barnet ceased to have a legally qualified Monitoring Officer are reviewed

Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Alison Moore said: "We referred the external report up to Full Council because the Conservatives refused to accept that legal services should be brought back in-house. The Leader of the Council admitted that there had been a loss of reputation, so it's not good enough for him to just shrug his shoulders and say everything's ok.

"Legal services were outsourced to save money, but HB Public Law is still overspent by £138k after a year and a half of being in operation. The reputational damage of this fiasco is not going to help them win new customers, so future savings could also be in doubt – it's time to recognise that legal services should be brought back in-house."

The next Full Council meeting will take place on 4 Novermber.

Notes:

Labour's proposed amendments at last night's meeting were:

1. Add at end of recommendation 1:

- except signing the side agreement, until legal services are brought back in house.

2. Add recommendation 2.1:

- that the vacant Monitoring Officer post must be filled by a legally qualified person, and this must be specified in the job description and job advert.

3. Delete recommendation 3 and replace with:

- that legal services are brought back in-house to be part of the integrated Assurance function.

4. Add to recommendation 5 at the end:

- including that a limited scope of high level corporate legal support is removed from the scope of the IAA and is instead provided in-house and/or through separate external arrangements pending legal services being brought back in-house.

5. Add recommendation 6:

- that a review of all decisions taken by LB Barnet since Barnet ceased to have a legally qualified Monitoring Officer is undertaken, with the support of external legal advice.

Substantive recommendations to read:

1. That the recommendations set out in section 6 of appendix 1, except signing the side agreement, are agreed until legal services are brought back in house.

2. That the Council retains its own Monitoring Officer, and

2.1 That the vacant Monitoring Officer post must be filled by a legally qualified person, and this must be specified in the job description and job advert.

3. That legal services are brought back in-house to be part of the integrated Assurance function.

4. That the Council’s integrated Assurance function is retained.

5. That the outcome of negotiation with Harrow Council in respect of these matters is reported to this committee in due course, along with detailed proposals for amendments to the Shared Legal Service Inter-Authority Agreement, including that a limited scope of high level corporate legal support is removed from the scope of the IAA and is instead provided in-house and/or through separate external arrangements pending legal services being brought back in-house.

6. That a review of all decisions taken by LB Barnet since Barnet ceased to have a legally qualified Monitoring Officer is undertaken, with the support of external legal advice.

For more information contact Cllr Alison Moore: cllr.a.moore@barnet.gov.uk

To contact the Barnet Labour Group: 020 8359 2568

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