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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Glaring Questions on Brent Council's Human Resources

I mentioned some of the failings of Brent's human resources yesterday.  Understandably there has been a lot of focus on accusations of racism and bulling, but I think the Human Resources function at Brent Council has a number of problems that need examination by rather more rigorous examiners than the "internal review" apparently set up.  The questions I have in mind are:

1) The obvious concerns about issues to do with bullying, intimidation and possible misuse of funds.
2) The continued appointment of an "interim" Chief Executive whose term appears to be set to extend for more than two years.  During this time other London Boroughs (eg Barnet) have seen seen Chief Executives go and be replaced.  Lambeth Council has advertised recently.  Why is Brent unable to perform this basic function?
3) The rising use of interim staff, which is an enormous cost to the taxpayer, and whether this reflects an underlying weakness in the structure of the organisation.
4) Whether anyone is getting any benefit from the One Oracle project.  One of the main aims of this was supposed to be the improvement in human resources information, which should lead to genuine efficiency savings as well as potentially improving the Council in terms of diversity and so on.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Racist Bullying at Brent Council

Following an Employment Tribunal that found Brent Council had tolerated racist bullying, there has rightly been a lot of disquiet.  The concerns are highly unlikely to be met by any internal review into the issue, as such a review is far to close to the people alleged to be involved to have any credibility.

What saddens me most about this is that Brent has over many years made real efforts to tackle equality issues, and this looks like an organisation losing those hard fought gains through neglect and perhaps something worse.

During the Tory administration of the 1990s, Brent Council abolished its human resources function altogether _ a decision almost unbelievably antediluvian.  The result was that it had no process for dealing with problems between managers and staff, and got involved in a number of scandals.  Many of these had a racial element, and the Council repeatedly found itself on receiving end of adverse employment tribunal verdicts highlighting problems with racism.  This got so bad that there was a specific intervention by the Commission for Racial Equality (forerunner of the CEHR).  Improvements were made under Paul Daisley's leadership of the Council, and the number of tribunal cases started to fall.  This also ran parallel with other improvements to the quality of governance, for instance in planning.

By 2010, Brent had a much healthier reputation.  It was able to undertake two waves of major restructuring without a major increase in adverse tribunal cases.  Given the restructuring involved the removal of about a quarter of the workforce, I think that remarkable.

When Brent was challenged over the Libraries Judicial Review, Equalities were one of the main grounds cited.  I am sure the opposing side thought they would manage to get the Council over somethiong equality related, and they did indeed pick over every imaginable objection.  That the Council came through such a rigorous examination with a judgement entirely in its favour is testament to how seriously equalities in Brent Council were treated.  

Since then I get an impression of decline.  A lot of this follows on from the removal of Gareth Daniel as Chief Executive.  There has never been any public explanation of why this was done, but I suspect part of it was because Gareth had objected vigorously to a particular councillor bullying staff.  The councillor bore him a grudge as a result and prusued a vendetta against him.

Once you start allowing this kind of thing without objection, you begin to create a culture where it is acceptable, and people cease even to object to bullying and simply keep their heads down.  That is a tragic situation not just for the victims but also the organisation as a whole.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Threatening and Bullying

Bizarrely, John Redwood is reported to be threatening businesses that speak out in favour of the European Union.  This is reminiscent of Jim Sillars' "Day of reckoning" during the indyref.  It really strikes me as thuggish and, in the Sillars case, counter-productive.   These campaigns should think about why they feel the need to threaten people in this way.

I also wonder about the legality of it.  In the Sillars case, he aimed at companies, who I imagine are not protected by the law, although I would have thought any attempt by the Scottish government to specifically penalise them might be subject to judicial review if it appeared politically motivated.  The Redwood case is different in that he appears not only to speak of companies but also individuals.  In the context of any referendum, I suspect that might run into election laws over "undue influence".  These days, that usually means something like standing over a postal voter as they fill in their ballot, but I can imagine the concept covering economic penalties threatened against people who vote the wrong way.  That was after all a major reason for the introduction of the secret ballot.

It is surely odd that what used to regard itself as the pro-business party now has senior figures threatening to "destablise" the corporate governance of companies that say things they don't like.  If a Labour politician had said that, I am sure the rightwing press would be denouncing him as a crypto-Communist and loony left.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Collecting the Posts

One of the curiosities arising from Cllr Keith Perrin's resignation as Environment lead last week is the lack of clarity it gives to the Brent place on the West London Waste Authority. Traditionally this role is fulfilled by the lead member, and there are good reasons for that. It is unclear whether Cllr Perrin has resigned from both. I gather that Cllr Muhammed Butt has appointed himself as Environment Lead without consulting the Labour Group (a breach of the Labour Group's longstanding practice of electing Cabinet positions) so perhaps he will make himself the WLWA representative as well. Following the suspension of Cllr Van Kalwala, Cllr Butt has also appointed himself as Group Treasurer. Again this is normally an elected post.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Allotment Waiting Lists

Brent Council has managed to reduce its waiting lists for allotments by about half.  Labour originally identified this as a problem in opposition, and pursued it subsequently through a (pun intended) ground breaking allotment strategy

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Gladstone Free School Returns to Brent

I hear that the proposed Gladstone School is still opening to open at a site in Brent in September 2015.  They appear to have abandoned their efforts to build on part of Gladstone Park, which is sensible.  Building on Metropolitan Open Space is almost impossible.

Their web site lists three consultation events _ at Child's Hill Library, the Tricycle Theatre and The Grange, Neasden _ which gives a kind of Bermuda Triangle as to where the school might actually go.  The reference to a Foundation Site appears to suggest the first site will be temporary. 

Brent actually passed a policy about Free Schools some time ago.  As I recall, it was a hotly debated subject at the time, although it has had little attention since.  The agreement at time was to lay down a number of conditions that Brent wanted from a free school partner, such as trained staff, adequate nutrition levels in food and so on.  Not rocket science perhaps, but important to the success of any school.  These did not appear to feature in the "rescue" of Copland Community School.  I hope that they are not overlooked when it comes to another school.