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Letter: Is Guildford Borough Council Beyond Effective Scrutiny?

Published on: 31 Jul, 2015
Updated on: 31 Jul, 2015

scrutinyFrom George Dokimakis

Following on from my experience of the previous full council meeting at Guildford Borough Council (GBC), I decided to attend the extraordinary full council meeting, held last Tuesday, July 29.

Once again, I was struck by and surprised at the behaviour of the Executive committee and how the council is run. There is an overwhelming sense of entitlement; it seems almost feudal.

The council talks about transparency and engaging the public but unless the public is really committed to participate and are approved of, they are not able to.

It is true that members of the public can put questions to the council. But, understandably, such questions must be put forward a week before the meeting to allow for researched answers to be given.

However, the meeting agenda is not published until the same deadline day for questions, so it is impossible to read the agenda and then submit questions about it. How can this be?

The public, who pays for this council through taxes, is not given a chance to properly engage. It seems to be yet another instance where GBC is saying one thing, claiming openness and transparency, but doing something different.

When someone does try to scrutinise the council and its behaviour, the Conservative tribe appears to put party first and protect their own.

This extraordinary meeting was partly about governance and how the council is to be governed going forward. A lot of work had been done by a cross-party committee to create a new governance model and the committee had, after due consideration, rejected both the elected mayor and committee systems for Guildford.

Yet, the disgraced convicted forger and proven liar, former Conservative councillor Monica Juneja, is organising a petition, commenced while she was still a councillor, to have a referendum for an elected mayor system in Guildford. If such a system is introduced by referendum we will be stuck with it for at least ten years.

One can only guess as to why she would run such a petition in light of the governance work carried out by cross-party committee at the council, work that had already been initiated and of which she must have been aware.

Is she personally motivated? Surely she cannot expect to be elected given her recent criminal track record? But if she is not ambitious for herself then who? No prizes there, I am afraid.

Cllr Gunning (Lab, Stoke) was the one at the meeting brave enough to ask the obvious question. The Guildford Dragon article: Council Leader Challenged On His Connection With Mayoral Petition captures, extremely well, the exchange.

Cllr Mansbridge’s ongoing association with Ms Juneja is well known: he seems to see no problem with it; does not appear to care how it might affect GBC’s reputation even though it has made the national press (Private Eye 26/6/2015, Rotten Boroughs column).

There are valid questions about the funding of this petition, as well as Cllr Mansbridge’s involvement, yet the council leader sees no need to clearly and unequivocally deny the speculation, or do the honourable thing and step aside to protect the council’s reputation.

His answer to Cllr Gunning: “Irrelevant and no,” only raises more questions. What exactly did he consider irrelevant and what was he saying no to?

Predictably we then witnessed some Conservative councillors, instinctively rather than with any thought, rallying to protect one of their own.

Appropriately perhaps, in a town where Lewis Carroll did some of his writing, Cllr Rooth (Con, Tillingbourne) seems to prefer life behind the looking glass and continues his refusal to recognise the reputational damage that the leader’s behaviour is causing, even claiming personalised comments were inappropriate, just minutes before his leader made a few of his own.

Cllr Mansbridge’s unsubstantiated allegations against Cllr Parker were unseemly. If Cllr Mansbridge has documented evidence that Cllr Parker has engaged with Private Eye to discredit him, as he claims, let us all see the evidence. She emphatically denied it. Allegations made this way are just slurs.

I am surprised that the Mayor of Guildford, chairing the meeting, allows such behaviour.

It seems to me that that Cllr Mansbridge and his Executive consider themselves to be beyond scrutiny, beyond criticism even. Questioners can expect indignation rather than straightforward answers.

Unless we all force them to change their ways and their attitudes, the next four years will not be kind to Guildford and its people. So it is imperative that everyone starts getting involved, starts to question the council’s behaviour and starts to help our local democracy transcend party politics.

It is time for all of us to change Guildford for the better; we can’t rely on the council.

George Dokimakis is a member of the Labour Party.


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Responses to Letter: Is Guildford Borough Council Beyond Effective Scrutiny?

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 31, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    George Dokimakis make an awful lot of sense. May we now have some answers from the Tory Executive?

  2. Michael Bruton Reply

    August 1, 2015 at 11:27 am

    Congratulations to Mr Dokamis for his analysis of the Tory borough council and to Cllr Angela Gunning for prodding Cllr Mansbridge. He seems to have a short fuse.

    It appears that the council leader has files on many subjects and proof of all sorts of conspiracies. Many would love to read his famous ‘lever arch file’ referred to by him during his friend Monika Juneja’s trial.

    Given that freedom of information requests – overseen by Mr Mistry [monitoring officer at GBC] – have failed to elicit such a file, does it actually exist?

    It does appear that many people in Guildford and Surrey both read and perhaps feed Private Eye with the latest ‘goings on’ in Tory Guildford. The Eye just loves being attacked by public figures. But who amongst them dares to sue it?

    We can almost guarantee that the Guildford Tory group will keep silent and swear fealty to the Executive over any issue – however unpleasant.

    What surprises me though, is the total silence of Anne Milton, Tory MP, over Guildford Borough Council. Does she go along with what is being done in her constituency? Like most MPs she is not normally lost for words on any subject.

    • Lisa Wright Reply

      August 1, 2015 at 3:55 pm

      I wrote and asked Anne Milton for her advice. Unfortunately, if you have an issue with GBC you have to make a complaint to… wait for it… GBC!

      I didn’t see the point.

      • Jim Allen Reply

        August 2, 2015 at 2:01 pm

        My advice to Lisa Wright is:

        Complain to the manager of the department – who will find against you and claim nothing has been done wrong.

        Then go to the next stage – the Executive – the same response is likely to be elicited.

        Next you go to the ombudsman who will in a large majority of cases find for the council.

        Behind the scenes mean time the perpetrators may no longer be available to answer queries because they have left and been employed by another council in the same position perhaps because the first council wants rid of the individual so won’t tell the second council why they left.

        In sum, a complaint will be processed but any admission of wrongdoing is unlikely.

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