Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Incompetence of Robert Landon, Sandra Stewart and the Civic Advisory Panel

For time now, I have been submitting questions to Tameside Council's Head of Democratic Services (and I use the term democratic loosely), for the council's rather undemocratic Civic Advisory Panel. The Panel is made up of has-been politicians and those representing "community" groups with their own vested interests and egos, with a view to climb the political ladder themselves. So lets have a look at their members:

Margaret Eddowes - Former Conservative Councillor. Only one that bothers to turn up.
Manilal Mistry - Labour Party Member.
Lord Pendry - Former Labour MP for Stalybridge & Hyde.
Lord Sheldon - Former Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne.
Kathleen Carey - Unknown affiliation, but never turns up like the above three.

If you want to ask your council a question, you have to go through this panel who will decide whether your question is worthy of them asking it on your behalf. But before you do that, you send them to Robert Landon first and he will send them to the CAP along with his "recommendations". He told me over a phone conversation that it is his job to advise the panel on what response to give. But why do the panel need a response? They are merely asking questions and not giving the answers themselves. Isn't this just the council leaning on what's supposed to be an independent panel?

More often than not, questions are rejected on the basis that they are personal attacks, deemed to political for the council to answer or not the right forum (I asked about cutting councillors allowances and that was rejected). Examples of a personal attack would be asking the now deputy leader who had responsibility for the borough's security, Councillor Taylor if it is right to support vigilante justice where the Ulster Volunteer Force beat a suspect up without trial to then hire a private security force to patrol problem areas with Rottweiler dogs.

Here's what I asked on the 16th of Novemeber 2010:

Question for Councillor Taylor. In January 2008 when the Daily Mirror covered an article where a boy was beaten up by the violent Ulster Defence Force on suspicion of theft without a trial with him having a sign stuck on him on a busy road saying "I am a thief", you commented on your own website "I bet this lad does not reoffend I understand the number of criminals on this estate is nil". When you said this, were you inferring to the same level of patrols in Tameside where you have appointed Peak Close Protection to patrol streets of Tameside with Rottweiler dogs?

2. Question for Councillor Taylor. What areas do the militant patrols carried out by Peak Close Protection or any other private security company carry out in Tameside. How much is this costing the taxpayer and when were other elected members of the council and members of the public consulted on your proposals which you have carried out regardless.

3. Question for Councillor Taylor. Given that the police oppose the private patrols carried out by Peak Close Protection, will the council remove any private security guards from patrolling our streets with immediate effect.

4. Open question. To ask the council if there is a conflict of interest with the appointment of Peak Close Protection for hired security given the connection with Councillor Sean Parker-Perry who in his register of interests declares that he is a "Business Development Manager" for Whitesails Training who force youths to take up their rehabilitation courses.

5. Open question. To ask the council what other services are carried out by Peak Combined Services. I understand that Peak Catering provide the catering for the Greater Manchester Pension Fund.


And here was the response from Robert Landon on the 24th of November 2010, just 45 minutes before the council meeting took place so I could not challenge the response:

Dear Mr Billington,

I refer to the questions you asked to be raised on your behalf at this evening’s Council Meeting. In accordance with the Council’s Constitution I referred the matter to members of the Civic Advisory Panel to determine firstly whether they think the questions fall within their remit and secondly who would ask the questions. I have received responses from the Civic Advisory Panel who have determined that the questions do not fall within their remit due to the personal nature of the questioning.

Therefore you questions will not be raised at this evening’s Council meeting.

regards

Robert Landon

Head of Democratic Services


I sent more questions as I blogged about a few days ago. However they have also been rejected as they were not sent "five working days" before the meeting. I sent them on the 16th of February, which in my opinion is five working days. Not according to Tameside Council or Robert Landon:

Dear Mr Billington,


With regard to the questions you have asked to be raised at the Council meeting on 22 February which I received at 11.51 on Wednesday 16 February I have to inform you that it is not possible to submit the questions as they were not received before the deadline for receipt of such questions set out in the Council’s Constitution. The Constitution states (section 31.12 of Part 4a (Procedural Standing Orders)):

11. Members of the Civic Advisory Panel may speak on behalf of the citizens of the Borough at Council meetings, in accordance with the procedure laid down in Standing Order 31.12 below.

12. At Ordinary Meetings of the Council, members of the public can submit a question to be asked on their behalf by members of the Civic Advisory Panel on matters that are relevant to the Council.

All questions must be submitted:-

1. in writing; and

b. at least five clear working days before a meeting i.e. not including the day of despatch, the day of the meeting, Sundays or any other days which the Council Offices are normally closed (Bank Holidays and during the Christmas period).

As the day of the meeting and Sundays are not included in calculating the five clear days rule all questions to be raised at Council via the Civic Advisory Panel must be received by the Tuesday of the preceding week. There is no discretion in interpreting the rules.

Regards

Robert Landon
Head of Democratic Services


The irony in all this is that I sent a FOI to Tameside Council over 20 days ago and guess what? I haven't had a reply. It's late! So it's OK for the council to bend the rules, but you can't send in a question if it is not sent giving Tameside Council's definition of "five working days". Imagine if a member of the public was to pay their tax late? Would Tameside Council be so lax?

Basically, the FOI was about the Civic Advisory Panel. They never attend any of the full council meetings. So what's the point in having this panel if they never turn up? Does this panel really represent the people of Tameside by not answering questions?

So, Rob Landon and Sandra Stewart have shown themselves big time. As I know Sandra just loves reading the local blogs, please can you answer my FOI requests on how much taxpayers' money you are GIVING AWAY to a hospital in Kenya and my FOI on councillor standards which you still haven't answered since May! This sort of gross incompetence in the private sector would have you sacked.

The Civic Advisory Panel should go. I don't want them to represent me or ask questions on my behalf. Why should they act as judge and jury, when they aren't independent and can be leaned upon by the council?

UPDATE: Rob Landon has responded to my FOI. He said I sent it on a Friday at 23:27. So Monday was classed as a working day. Regardless, he sent his reply after the working day had finished on the 21st at 6:56PM. Nevermind.

Also I have found out the number of meetings CAP members have turned up to for this municipal year.

Margaret Eddows - 5/6
Manilal Mistry - 1/7
Lord Pendry - 0/7
Lord Sheldon - 0/7
Kathleen Carey - 3/6

31 questions have been submitted over the past 3 years. Yet the Civic Advisory Panel have only asked 5 of these! Excuses are given in the document.

Rob Landon has also told a porkie by saying the council doesn't advise a response for CAP members. He has told me he does this. This was by a phone conversation and unfortunately not by email. But if you look at my previous correspondence which I have highlighted above and Landon states:

"In accordance with the Council’s Constitution I referred the matter to members of the Civic Advisory Panel to determine firstly whether they think the questions fall within their remit and secondly who would ask the questions."


Why does he need to ask if questions fall within their remit?
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