Fringe Box



Council Complaints Investigation Review Will Not Include Juneja Case

Published on: 10 Jul, 2015
Updated on: 10 Jul, 2015
Cllrs Stephen Mansbridge and Monika Juneja, both directors of Two Stop Consultancy Ltd.

Cllr Stephen Mansbridge and former councillor Monika Juneja (in 2013)

The review of Guildford Borough Council’s complaint investigation procedure will not include the independent investigation into the complaint against former councillor Monika Juneja, according to well placed sources at Guildford Borough Council (GBC).

The news came as a surprise to at least six of the councillors present, from across the political spectrum, that The Guildford Dragon NEWS has spoken to.

A question from Cllr Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) who leads the opposition prompted the apparent change of heart by council leader Stephen Mansbridge (Con, Ash South & Tongham). The questioned specifically referred to the reputational damage caused by the failure of the Juneja investigation, something the council has admitted.

The decision to concede any type of review of how complaints are handled is known to have caught many at the meeting by surprise. At one stage Satish Mistry, the council’s monitoring officer and head of legal and democratic services, unusually intervened in the debate to ask Cllr Mansbridge for some terms of reference.

Cllr Pauline Searle (Lib Dem, Stoughton) who asked what the review would cover during the council meeting  confirmed today (July 10) that she had been under the clear impression that it would include the Juneja investigation.

Cllr Susan Parker (GGG, Send) said: “I do not expect that anyone will consult GGG on the remit of that internal investigation. The Executive seems to have a habit of excluding GGG from discussion wherever possible.

“I note that Cllr Mansbridge has promised that in order to inspire confidence he will ask the monitoring officer (Satish Mistry) to ‘take this on’.  Cllr Mansbridge has promised that this will be public, open, transparent, and “will address all the issues.

“I think what is being proposed is a review of the historic investigation conducted into Monika Juneja by the monitoring officer Satish Mistry, at a time when the monitoring officer reported to the lead councillor for governance.

“I am sorry, but [this] does not inspire confidence in me. There seems to be no cultural change.  I expect that this will be yet another whitewash.”

Pressure to hold a review had culminated in a question from the leader of the opposition, Cllr Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), which was debated at Tuesday night’s full council meeting (July 7).

Cllr Mansbridge has been invited to comment by The Guildford Dragon NEWS, but has not responded.

In her written question Cllr Reeves had asked: “What actions will the leader of the council and his Conservative group take now and in the coming months to repair the damage to this council and to restore public confidence in the Local Plan process, following the conviction on criminal charges of the former lead councillor for planning who led the Local Plan process in the last council term?”

In his response Cllr Mansbridge wrote: “It is important to separate the Local Plan process from the largely historic issues associated with the individual concerned [Juneja], as one did not impinge on the other directly.

“…The Conservative group was returned with an increased majority [in the May GBC election] which demonstrates that there is a level of confidence that has increased and not decreased, and that we are on a positive track.

“… Reputations are not rebuilt with words but with actions and positive outcomes, and that is what this administration has already delivered and will continue to delivered and will continue to deliver vigorously.”

In her supplementary question Cllr Reeves asked: “Maybe this is the right time to review our actions concerning formal investigations. The perception of a minority of our residents is that we, as a whole council, are in disrepute despite the fact that our work covers a far wider sphere than the local plan and in some areas is far more critical and immediate to individuals…

“A review of our investigation procedure would reassure those doubters of us so that we can move forward from this situation.”

Cllr Mansbridge responded: “I think this matter was considered very fully at the audit and corporate governance committee and then subsequently, as part of the review of governance.

“I have no objection to having a review into our investigative procedures but I would say that having been aware of what was happening throughout and when you look back at something through hindsight it is obviously a great deal easier than when you are actually following something through.

“But I am very clear, in support of the monitoring officer, that he was at absolute pains to go through every single procedure and to take all the right advice at the different points as this investigation went through.

“The fact that certain things transpired in particular ways was I don’t believe the fault of the investigation, I think that was done perfectly properly. But in order to inspire confidence in the public, as a further action, then I think that this is a reasonable request and I am happy to ask the monitoring officer to take that on.”

Cllr Parker said that she was glad that her original request for a governance review was being followed up and was grateful to Cllr Reeves for asking the question. (Cllr Reeves later in the debate pointed out that her question had not sought a governance review but a review of the investigations procedures).

Cllr Pauline Searle asked what the review would cover. She said: “I fear this is going to rumble on, and on, and on unless everything is transparent and clear. So is this review going to bring forward answers to peoples questions and is it going to be transparent and open to the public?”

Mr Mistry then unusually interjected to add a request that Cllr Mansbridge, in answering Cllr Searle, was very clear about the terms of reference of the review.

In his response, Cllr Mansbridge said: “I talked very specifically about a review of our investigative procedure and that review, to answer Cllr Searle’s question very clearly, will be absolutely open and fully transparent to the public and will aim to address all the issues that have been brought up to date.”

He continued to criticise Cllr Parker for bringing the issue of the Local Plan Panel selection into the debate.

Council officers are understood to be working further on the precise terms of reference for the review which is expected to be conducted by an outside party.

The reported debate can be seen on the GBC website. Click here to view. The agenda item in question commences just after 48 minutes into the meeting.

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Responses to Council Complaints Investigation Review Will Not Include Juneja Case

  1. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Cllr Mansbridge was clear, to my mind, in what he said, given the context of the original question and Cllr Searle’s probing question on what the review would cover.

    He said: “that review … will aim to address all issues which have been brought up to date”

    This has to include the Juneja investigation in a public open format because this has to be the basis of both the actual investigation and and implementing any learning into the councils investigative procedures.

    A couple of suggestions from me.

    1 The investigator is truly independent of both the council and the accused.

    2 Having had no pecuniary interests with the Council in the past or in the future.

  2. Garry Walton Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. Cllr Mansbridge might get a roasting if a proper investigation takes place.

  3. Martin Elliott Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    Doesn’t seem too good for the department whose procedures are being examined to write the Terms of Reference.

    Whilst it is good that an external party is now proposed, part of previous problems seemed to be down to poor selection of the investigator.

    The Juneja affair probably doesn’t need any further investigation, but the way the investigation was initiated and conducted is certainly an important example of failure of governance.

    It then leaves the question of how far the governance procedures are being followed or not within departments of the council.

    As a client I have, unfortunately, had to make complaints about council departments. The depth of any investigation and response have usually been inadequate. Its also disappointing that heads of departments admit that procedures, for the sake of convenience, are not always followed.

    This is now a real opportunity to see if the council treats governance seriously, top to bottom.

  4. Ben Paton Reply

    July 12, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Cllr Mansbridge said: “But I am very clear, in support of the monitoring officer, that he was at absolute pains to go through every single procedure and to take all the right advice at the different points as this investigation went through”.

    If that is true then why did not the monitoring officer commit his instructions to writing? And why did the investigator keep no record of his interviews?

    If the Council is to follow its Codes and be “transparent” why can’t the public see the instructions and the findings arising from the interviews, if any?

    Did the Monitoring Officer look up the relevant law or take any legal advice? Apparently not.

    Does that show he took “absolute pains to go through every single procedure”?

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