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Letter: ‘Did Those Who Signed Juneja Petition Know What They Were Doing? Their Signatures May Bind Guildford For Next 10 Years’

Published on: 7 Jun, 2015
Updated on: 7 Jun, 2015

From Cllr Susan Parker (Send Ward),  leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group and a director of Local Democracy Ltd.

Did the people signing Monika Juneja’s petition know what they were doing?

Adan Scotney’s reply to The Guildford Dragon NEWS’ story ‘Elected Mayor’ Petition Sent To Borough Council From Former Councillor Juneja, concerning  an elected mayor is extremely important.

He states “I was accosted by somebody on North Street a couple of weeks ago asking me to sign a petition calling for a directly elected mayor in Guildford. When I said I didn’t care that we don’t directly elect the mayor I was told I should sign the petition anyway.. (“by signing the petition you’re not saying you’re in favour of an elected mayor, just that the issue should be looked at”)”.

But in fact this petition is a constitutional disaster for Guildford. Strong words? No.

Cllr Susan Parker.

Cllr Susan Parker.

If the petition for an elected mayor is approved as valid, the legal team at Guildford Borough Council has now suggested (provisionally) that one single individual will be able to decide the future for the borough, and the system can’t be changed for 10 years.

That individual could be titled as mayor or council leader depending on a referendum in the autumn. Either way, power will be concentrated in the hands of one individual.

The decision about how we are to be governed will be made by June 17, irrespective of how anyone votes in that referendum or any subsequent election.

The legal team has also suggested we shouldn’t review this system for 10 years, or reconsider the decision. The decision about this is, at present, being made by Satish Mistry, monitoring officer of Guildford Borough Council, without consideration by councillors, even though the constitutional changes are profound.

How does this arise?

If this petition is validated there will be a referendum. However, in a committee meeting last week councillors were told that there will only be two alternatives offered to the people of Guildford:

1. A “strong leader” in charge of the Executive ( the current system). The leader (currently Cllr Stephen Mansbridge) has been appointed for four years, unless removed by Council. He has personally chosen the members of the Executive and can remove them. Most decisions made by the Executive in accordance with policy do not need to be approved by full council but can be decided by a quorum of three, effectively giving the leader personal control of the council.

2. An elected mayor, with wide-ranging powers similar to the powers of the current “strong leader”. Decisions will not be subject to formal consultation and will not be considered by councillors. The mayor cannot be removed during the term of office.

Stephen Mansbridge

The leader of Guildford Borough Council, Stephen Mansbridge.

Practically speaking, there is little to choose between the two, except that the mayor cannot be removed. The leader of our council, Cllr Mansbridge, who is a former business partner of Ms Juneja who sponsored the petition, already has wide powers. He only needs two other Executive members (appointed by him) to ratify his decisions. He doesn’t need to consult with the council on most matters. So why bother with a petition?

The Guildford Greenbelt Group’s preferred alternative is the committee system where all councillors have a voice and a vote. But we have been told this is unlikely to be an option in the referendum. I have asked that legal advice is sought about this, and that the terms of reference for that advice are made public. The alternative petition from Local Democracy Ltd is still seeking signatures – our petition can be seen on our website.

Councillors have been told the referendum will prevent any possible subsequent change, or any subsequent petitions being considered, and Guildford will be committed to the choice made (as set out in the first petition) for the next 10 years.

The mayoral petition might be illegal or invalid. (It is not legal to harass voters outside polling stations or pay for campaigning and political campaigning is not permitted on election day. Councillors are politically affiliated and Ms Juneja was a councillor until May 11, 2015). I have asked formally that the petition’s legality be considered. I have also suggested that such a major constitutional dilemma should be considered by all councillors, not just decided by an unelected monitoring officer.

If this dubious petition goes forward, Guildford will have one leader. That leader will make unilateral decisions on behalf of all of us. None of us (including councillors) will have any ability to influence the future.

The people who signed this petition may not – according to Adan Scotney – have realised the consequences. This petition is a cynical way of committing us all to a system that no one signing had appreciated at the time.

Most of us thought we were engaged on May 7 in a local election to determine the future of the council and the borough – but we were wrong. GGG had more than 20 000 votes, but the only votes that mattered were 5,012 signatures on that petition, sponsored by Monika Juneja.

The monitoring officer expects to approve that petition on June 17 which will bind us all. I would question whether he has the power to make that constitutional decision on his own. Be aware, that unless that petition is overturned before it is validated –or unless there is a three-way choice – then those 5,012 signatures will bind Guildford for the next 10 years.

Can we stop this at this stage? Yes. It’s not inevitable.

First, you can download and sign the Local Democracy petition for a committee system so it has 5,012 signatures too – and so that it can be submitted fast. Then you can write to your councillor and your MP to demand that they require a three–way alternative. We must have a real democratic choice.

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Responses to Letter: ‘Did Those Who Signed Juneja Petition Know What They Were Doing? Their Signatures May Bind Guildford For Next 10 Years’

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    June 8, 2015 at 9:11 am

    I must say, I have very strong concerns as well.

    Not least of all that a person who has admitted fraud and is awaiting sentence, possibly jail, has put this petition forward.

    Who does she think will stand?

  2. Gerald Bland Reply

    June 8, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    It was the Localism Act 2011 that introduced the embargo on there being an interval of at least 10 years between governance referenda.

    This ‘first past the post’ system and the implications of coming second have been there there in the Act for all to read,including the directors of Local Democracy Ltd.

    If the consequences of a governance referendum in Guildford were more important than the council elections as Councillor Parker now contends why were GGG’s energies not first directed to finalising a petition they launched almost 12 months ago?

  3. Anna-Marie Davis Reply

    June 8, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    It is hard to get past the post if your preferred option isn’t listed on the referendum paper.

    Surely, if we are going to go to the expense of arranging a referendum, all three possible options should be given to the electorate before they bind the town for 10 years?

    It seems ludicrous, in the interests of openness and transparency and the other Nolan Principles, that all possible options are not laid out on the table.

    I welcome a referendum on the governance arrangements in this town, but restricting the choice to the two alternatives which give the most power to the current majority party is demonstrative of how little regard both the Conservatives and officers at Millmead have for the statutorily embodied Nolan Principles, which have been there in the Act, for all to read.

    The Localism Act, Part 1, Ch7 (28) (1)
    (a) selflessness;
    (b) integrity;
    (c) objectivity;
    (d) accountability;
    (e) openness;
    (f) honesty;
    (g) leadership.

  4. Gerald Bland Reply

    June 8, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    There continues to be a misunderstanding about the petition process and the limited role of the petition organiser.

    If Ms Juneja’s petition survives scrutiny Ms Juneja has no further role to fulfil.

    The Guildford electorate will be asked by the council to vote on whether they wish to change from the present executive system of governance to a directly elected mayor.

    Only if the electorate vote for this change are nominations for the mayoralty then invited and a mayor democratically elected in late 2016.

    Past statistics suggest the Guildford electorate will vote for the governance status quo to continue but in the remote event a second vote ensues Councillor Parker will have the opportunity to put her hat in the ring along with everyone else.

    Rather than being a ploy to install Councillor Mansbridge, the Juneja petition appears little more than a thinly disguised attempt to frustrate GGG’s governance ambitions before she quits the Guildford scene.

  5. Paul Spooner Reply

    June 9, 2015 at 9:56 am

    This letter from Cllr Parker is, as usual with her communications, misleading. The leader does appoint his or her Executive team but the statement that the leader just needs to find two others to ratify his or her decisions is nonsense. Key decisions outside Full Council are agreed at Executive Committee in public by all Executive members present.

    Whilst I personally don’t support an elected Mayor model for Guildford I do also take issue with Cllr Parker questioning the intelligence of anyone who signed that petition whilst encouraging residents to sign her petition instead as if those of sound mind should clearly see that she is always right. I hope that she invests her time wisely in understanding the pros and cons of all systems of governance as members of all parties did in the Scrutiny group prior to election and reflecting on the view of elected members. The Committee system is different but not necessarily a better alternative to the current model. Whilst I am content with the current system I understand the majority of members support for a hybrid model and hope that after careful consideration now that Cllr Parker is a member of Council she will revisit her pre-determined view with an open mind.

    [Paul Spooner is a Conservative borough councillor for South Ash and Tongham and a lead councillor for planning.]

    • Adrian Atkinson Reply

      June 12, 2015 at 8:38 am

      As Cllr Spooner should know the number of members required to form a quorum at Executive meetings is just three.

      So Cllr Parker’s statement is true and not misleading – key decisions can be made by the leader and just two other Executive members despite assertions to the contrary. More people may be at an Executive meeting but only a minimum of three are required to make decisions.

  6. Julian Cooper Reply

    June 9, 2015 at 10:15 am

    I wish to state that I met the two students hired canvasing for signitures outside the Co-operative Store on Aldershot Road.

    The reason that I signed the petition was to oppose the existing set up with Cllr Mansbridge and Ms Juneja, little understanding that it was Ms Juneja that was facilitating this. Had I realised I wouldn’t have signed it and I want my name to be removed from this petition.

  7. John Robson Reply

    June 9, 2015 at 11:14 am

    I’m struggling with this. We appear to be debating the merits of a petition which could be construed to be a cynical attempt to exploit a well-placed “opportunity” within the “Localism” act, which if successful will remove the last vestiges of what little democracy remains in Millmead and for a period of 10 years? Even the Mayor of London only gets four years.

    The council is already basically an autocracy and this could place decision making into the hands of one individual in what will be a defining period in this town’s future.

    If the “trajectory has been set” and that future is “growth” to suit the developer agenda, why did Guildford bother electing 48 councillors or waste millions on a Local Plan consultation?

    Furthermore, while we await the legal and procedural waffle that I’m sure will we proffered by Guildford Borough Council (GBC). The question is, how can GBC, given the well documented actions of the author, even consider this petition? Why hasn’t it just been rejected?

    Have we lost the plot? Did the Conservatives sell off the moral compass with the green belt?

    It appears that in politics anything still goes.

  8. John Kohl Reply

    June 10, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    It appears the University of Surrey’s Students’ Union has passed a motion supporting the idea of the elected mayor and has then partnered a lobbying company who are paying students for each signature they collect.

    This is from the public accessible Students’ Union website:

    “The Union Executive recently passed a motion to support a mayor for Guildford. A local consultancy would like some help THIS WEEK in drumming up support and gauging opinions of the future of Guildford. Offering £1 per signature, a £25 bonus for 100 signatures on Wednesday, and a £50 bonus for 150 signatures on Thursday!! You would need to be confident, approachable and willing to use your initiative. If you are interested in this opportunity, please contact Monika on 07734 487463. Sign up with a friend and get an extra £5 for every extra friend you bring.”

    • John Robson Reply

      June 11, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Aaaaa enlightenment, the root of all evil, money.

      Which organisation / key “Guildford Borough Council stakeholder” will realise enormous profits from cashing in on the green belt?

      The University of Surrey.

      It now seems it’s students have been sufficiently incentivised to claim their slice of the action, irrespective of the long term consequences to a town most students will just pass through, depositing a few pizza boxes on the way.

      Who’s funding the lobbying company? And why do they have a vested interest? And again how can this petition have any credibility and / or stand up to scrutiny?

      Why would you need “initiative” to get someone to sign a petition, unless you were trying to coerce them. You really couldn’t make this up.

  9. Lisa Wright Reply

    June 11, 2015 at 10:30 am

    And there’s more…

    As Ms Juneja was still a Conservative councillor at this stage, I wonder what the questions and responses to her survey were? Perhaps GBC could enlighten us?

    Furthermore, which ‘consultancy’ employed and paid for this survey?

  10. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    June 11, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Who actually paid the students and who actually provided that money if done by a third party?

    Student A to student B: “If you sign my petition I get £1. If you come along to the meeting too I get £5.

    Student B to student A: “Great. If you then sign my petition I get £1 too. Why not let’s split the money and make ourselves £3.50 each or if you want to keep the £6 you earned from me then I’ll see you at the bar and you can buy me a vodka Redbull.”

    Looks like the university is once again setting the fate of the whole of the Borough. And in effect there is a severe chance of payment being effectively made to the person signing the petition.

  11. Ray Briggs Reply

    June 11, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Thanks John.

    Your note on the Students’ Union position seems to indicate that signatures are for sale. This seems to fly in the face of every proper democratic principle. In my opinion it is unethical, but is it also legal?

  12. Ben Paton Reply

    June 11, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Mr Bland now seems to be a spokesman for Ms Monika Juneja!

    He now takes it upon himself to present an ‘interpretation’ of her intentions in starting a petition for an elected mayor.

    What does Mr Bland know that we don’t? Does he have the ear of the former Lead Councillor for Planning?

    Is he speculating about what her intentions are and has he asked her?

    Mr Bland writes that he is ‘utterly appalled’ that Cllr Rooth appears to believe that qualifications (and lying about them) is irrelevant to the council.

    Perhaps he should be even more ‘utterly appalled’ that someone called ‘Monika’ appears on the Students’ Union website quite literally paying students per signature procured.

    Or is this also an ingenuous attempt to ‘frustrate GGG’s governance ambitions’?

  13. Janette Panton Reply

    June 11, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    I too am struggling with this and I am not at all surprised Mr Cooper would like his name removed from this petition. How many other people would want the same given this information? Why has this petition not been rejected?

    I would personally like to see Guildford Borough Council making a public announcement prior to approving this petition, giving anyone who has signed it the option to withdraw their signature should they wish. The least GBC should do is ensure that if a referendum takes place that all 3 options (Mayoral, Executive, Committee) are offered to their residents.

    The GGG petition calling to revert back to the Committee system has been in circulation for some time with signatures sought by volunteers at various events throughout the Borough. I am sure if the same tactic were used in offering payment for obtaining signatures, this petition would also have achieved the required number of signatures in a very short space of time. But no doubt would have been rightly criticised for doing so.

  14. Jules Cranwell Reply

    June 11, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    I have to question what is the legal status for a sitting councillor to underwrite a petition to change the council’s governance.

    I also question the legality of such a councillor offering students up to £250 a head to attract maximum signatures.

    Are we living in Guildford, or Tower Hamlets?

    We need to hear from the Tory councillors and grass roots where they stand on this.

    This really is rather distasteful.

  15. Terry Stevenson Reply

    June 12, 2015 at 10:37 am

    I like the suggestion that politicians should be allowed to pick and choose which petitions they choose to accept or ignore, based on their origins.

    Perhaps politicans should also be allowed to pick and choose which election results they wish to accept or ignore.

    Can someone enlighten me – did the Guildford Greenbelt Group ever submit a petition to the council before it morphed into a ‘political entity’? If so, should this have been accepted or ignored?

    Clarkson for PM, no make that the King!

    • Nick Jones Reply

      June 12, 2015 at 4:57 pm

      The GGG have not got enough signatures to file their petition and now it seems it might be too late.

      Monica Juneja once said in a committee meeting: “be careful what you wish for”, I bet the GGG are now wondering what she was referring to.

      I still would not want to see her go down for her crime and wish her well on the 15th.

  16. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    June 12, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    Very strange perspective from Mr Jones: inferring Ms Juneja’s actions as a councillor (petition was submitted when she was a councillor) and petition organiser was not in the best interests of Guildford residents but more of a payback to those who disagreed with her in the council chamber.

    Secondly, why would one not want a criminal to have the punishment they deserve. It seems Mr Jones has political allegiance above justice in his moral compass.

    • Nick Jones Reply

      June 14, 2015 at 6:16 pm

      Adrian, I can assure you that my views as regards Ms Juneja’s punishment has nothing to do with any political allegiances I might have but more to do with my compassionate side winning through in this particular case.

      I believe that if one removes her association with the local plan from the equation (something most impartial people should be able to do) I feel her deception is minor on the bigger scale of things.

      I can’t see how paying for her to be locked up is in the public interest.

      I also read somewhere that she has a young family and again my compassionate side extends to the effect her incarceration would have on them. Community service would be more appropriate in my opinion but I will respect what the judge decides.

      As for my comment regarding what Ms Juneja once said in a committee meeting, I wouldn’t read too much into it. Her reply was actually in response to a discussion concerning possible pressure from London overspill and the housing need number in the first SHMAA and had nothing to do with her petition, or did it?

  17. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    June 15, 2015 at 9:13 am

    I guess the legal process will run its course this morning and the judge will take everything into consideration in their conclusion.

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