This is our truth, tell us yours
Since the Grenfell Tower disaster the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have been intent on proving exactly how crap they can be, while still being beyond the reach of the law.
The latest shambles they have presided over is the prelude to tonight’s cabinet meeting.
Essentially, RBK&C scheduled a cabinet meeting that they proposed to hold in private, with no clear explanation of what they might discuss or decide.
At such times, much against the traditions of this blog, the only question to ask is ‘What would Margaret Thatcher say?’
Long before she acquired notoriety as the most wicked Prime Minister of the twentieth century, a considerable achievement from a field that includes Churchill and Eden, Thatcher was an early campaigner for transparency and openness of council meetings. Thatcher famously introduced the Admission to Meetings Act of 1960, which was intended to force transparency upon councils. It was intended to prevent exactly the kind of charade RBK&C engaged in, attempting to exclude the public from their deliberations for fear they might be embarrassed.
There are a few facts that need to be considered. The Thatcher act of 1960 was nakedly political, aimed at Labour councils, and limited in scope and ambition. Thatcher didn’t intend to redraw the parameters of power, and probably didn’t understand the common law history of the power of councils to exclude the public from their deliberations. She also probably didn’t think deeply about whether the common law right of councils to exclude the public was actually rooted in anything more substantial than a sense of entitlement dating back to before the changes that started to create systematic local government in 1838.
The power RBK&C probably thought they could rely on was set out in the discussion of a case in 2014. Essentially, the law is that if there is good evidence that individuals will set out to disrupt a meeting, or to prevent it happening, they can be excluded either individually or as a group or class. The problem is that RBK&C didn’t set out the evidence for that assertion, and failed to convince a High Court judge that they had reasonable grounds to fear disruption. The Judge, in turn, probably erred by arguing that the media were a special class of the public who ought to be admitted to the meeting, and the sense of privilege of the Guardian’s journalists makes this article nauseating, but this shouldn’t distract us from what was fundamentally wrong with the calling of the RBK&C meeting.
Schedule 12 of the Local Government Act 1972, and successive legislation, doesn’t interest modern journos. It should. The schedule lays down, absolutely clearly, that the summons to attend a meeting (the agenda) shall make clear the business to be transacted. The cabinet of RBK&C had nothing on their agenda to tell you what business was to be transacted, save only that it concerned Grenfell Tower. As soon as tonight’s meeting was over the morally incompetent leader of the council was able to have his statement published on the council website, yet the council would have you believe that the entirely uninteresting statement was so urgent it could not be published with the meeting papers.
I call bullshit. RBK&C is in the mess it is, because its high handed and arrogant leaders believe they can ignore the usual rules and play fast and loose with the usual standards of governance and transparency. In that they’ve been aided and abetted by lazy, second rate journalists who are no longer interested in governance and process; gossip and comment are easier than reading papers and checking legislation.