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Petition Race Continues – But Students No Longer Involved

Published on: 24 Sep, 2015
Updated on: 27 Sep, 2015

petitionA race between two petitions both seeking referendums to force a change in the way Guildford Borough Council (GBC) exercises power is continuing this week despite widely supported changes proposed for the current Executive system of governance announced on September 17.

Both petitions are understood to be approaching the 5,012 (5% of voters) threshold required to trigger a referendum.

One petition, organised by Local Democracy Ltd, fronted by Susan Parker and started in the summer of 2014 before she was elected as a Guildford Greenbelt Group councillor for Send, is seeking a return to a committee style of borough council governance. The other, organised by former Conservative councillor Monika Juneja and started before the last elections in May, is seeking to have an elected mayor installed in Guildford.

The identity of the financial sponsor behind Ms Juneja’s petition remains a mystery and she refuses to say how her petition is funded. University of Surrey students were recruited by the Students’ Union to collect signatures and were paid £1 per signature.

Mustie Smith the current president of the union told The Guildford Dragon NEWS that it had not been realised in May that the petition would be submitted under Monika Juneja’s name (she was known to be due to appear to face a criminal trial at the Old Bailey) nor was it known who was paying the students or where the money was coming from.

But Mr Smith said that students were no longer collecting signatures although the union’s policy was still to support a referendum for an elected mayor, a system of governance it is felt would be better for students.

Ms Juneja submitted her petition in May but it was found that more than 1,500 of the signatures could not be verified. However she can still resubmit the petition if sufficient additional signatures can be obtained.

Another motivation for the petitioners might be to prevent the competing petition becoming effective. Even if a referendum triggered by a petition is lost, and voters reject the proposal for a committee system or elected mayor, another petition on the same subject of council governance, may be barred for 10 years.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS asked both organisers the following questions about their petitions:

1. Are signatures still being collected?

2. Are collectors (still) being paid to obtain signatures?

3. How many signatures do you now have in total (i.e. including those found acceptable from any previous submission)?

They were also asked to provide the statement with which petitioners were signing agreement.

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker responded: “Local Democracy Ltd’s directors estimate that there are currently over 4,000 signatures on the referendum for the committee system.

“People may not appreciate the extent to which the current administration concentrates power in the hands of just one individual. It is this which we want to challenge.  The Conservative party, who have the largest number of seats (with 46.9% of the votes cast at the local elections, so less than half the votes) have chosen the leader of the council, Cllr Stephen Mansbridge.

“As council leader he has appointed nine other members of the Executive and he can change those members at his absolute discretion. The Executive have almost complete power over almost all decision making within the borough.  The “quorum” of the Executive, for decision-making purposes, is three members – so the leader, with the support of two people he has appointed, can make almost any decision he wishes.

“This situation will be perpetuated if enough people sign the mayoral petition (whether or not the mayoral petition is approved at a referendum – the mere fact of holding the referendum on that issue will lock out any possible alternative for 10 years under the rules).

“Under the current system, other councillors are permitted to make comments in some circumstances but can then be completely disregarded. We want to give all elected councillors, from all parties, involvement in the decision-making process, a right to comment and a right to vote on all issues – a right that they currently do not have.

“Our petition is for anyone who wants their elected councillors to have a voice in decision-making. It is intended to reintroduce democracy to Guildford. We want elected councillors to represent the community. We don’t one individual to exercise total control over the whole borough.

“We do still need more signatures for our petition to be valid. Our volunteers are still gathering signatures but they are doing this in their free time and are unpaid. If anyone wants to sign our petition, but doesn’t know how to get hold of us, the petition can be printed off our website.”

The statement at the head of Susan Parker’s petition is: “We, the undersigned, being local government electors for the area of Guildford Borough Council, to whom this petition is addressed, seek a referendum on whether the Council should be run in a different way by one or more committees made up of elected councillors.”

Monika Juneja

Monika Juneja

Monika Juneja said: “I do not wish to answer your questions as yet, save for one point. There was some criticism expressed as to how well my petition was understood and that people were being ‘duped’ into signing it.

“No one signing my petition has been under a false illusion. They have been clear that they are signing a petition offering a referendum for choice; that choice being between the council’s current governance system and that of an elected mayor. Very clear.

“In contrast, I wonder whether the same clarity exists with those people signing the petition sponsored by Cllr Susan Parker? Councillors have difficulty understanding the vagaries of the committee system, despite several cross party sessions of education, so how the public can make sense of it against the backdrop of not allowing development on the greenbelt is concerning.

“The people who are being duped are those signing up for the choice between an existing system and one that they are most unlikely to grasp and which is dressed up to be more democratic.

“Ask any current or past councillor how the committee system functioned in practice and two points will emerge: the Executive still existed in the form of the Resources Committee and the system was highly inefficient and cumbersome in terms of decision making.

“At least my petition offers a clear and understandable choice.”

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Responses to Petition Race Continues – But Students No Longer Involved

  1. Paul Robinson Reply

    September 24, 2015 at 11:09 am

    In view of Monika Juneja’s recent history I would have thought that she would go out of her way to be as transparent as possible about what organisation is behind her petition.

    Why is she clouding an issue on how the council is to be run with green belt development? She also shows her contempt for her former constituents by suggesting that we are too thick to understand.

    Until she is open about the group behind her petition I wouldn’t even consider signing on the dotted line. If I did sign it, she probably thinks I’d have to do with a wax crayon.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    September 24, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    I remain concerned that a convicted forger is allowed to front up such a poll.

  3. John Robson Reply

    September 25, 2015 at 8:19 am

    Legally, ethically how can this petition from Ms Juneja even be considered by this morally bankrupt Council Executive?

    One can only assume there must be some within the Executive whom would like this petition to succeed? Otherwise, surely barristers would’ve been instructed to find a means to stop it in its tracks.

    Finally, as for the murky question as to who is funding this deliberate attempt to undermine local democracy, who stands to gain?

    Surely in these days of transparency the funding of a process that could weaken what remains of Guildford’s democratic process and set this Town on a cataclysmic course for “growth” should be a matter of public record.

    But for Conservatives transparency has never been top of the agenda, has it?

  4. Jenny Procter Reply

    September 25, 2015 at 9:05 am

    Monika Juneja remained in post, supported by the Council Executive and members despite charges of fraud and pending trial.

    Although she knew that her claimed qualification was a pretence, she remained in charge of the draft local plan which affects every resident, whether in town or country. The lack of democratic representation in the council affects every councillor.

    This is not a battle for green belt over town. It is a reasoned push for a democratic system which allows fair representation whatever the issue for the electorate. The Conservatives have a majority of councillors but won less than 50% of the vote, yet their small self-selected Executive band can decide our destiny. I believe, a number of councillors stepped down at the last election for this very reason.

    Realistically, under this current Executive system, millions of pounds of tax payers money has been spent on a number of expensive, abortive consultancy studies. These have resulted in very little housing provision or effective development in Guildford. The culmination was the Draft Local Plan which was so flawed and so unpopular it had to be withdrawn.

    Do residents want this to continue?

    The petition for democracy is worth signing for all our sakes.

  5. Martin Elliott Reply

    September 26, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    So Monika Juneja still refuses to state how her petition is financed. Possibly its philanthropic, but that’s unlikely given the amount one can estimate has been spent. The question is who can gain from its acceptance, whatever the referendum outcome, because of the prohibition of any further debate for ten years?

    She assures us that everybody knew and understood what they were signing. We can of course ignore all the deceptions she has personally perpetrated.

    If her reassurances are acceptable, she will easily explain why so many signatures failed to be verified by GBC on a first check.

  6. Ben Paton Reply

    September 27, 2015 at 11:00 am

    From GBC’s Code of Conduct: “Openness. Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.”

    Monika Juneja no longer represents Burpham as a borough Councillor. So she is no longer subject to this code.

    But would it not be in the public interest to know who has funded her petition to the tune of many thousands of pounds?
    And isn’t the public entitled to inquire whether her former business partner is associated with the petition?

    Can Ms Juneja at least give the public an assurance that her petition has not been funded by anyone with a direct or indirect interest in any of the possible multi-million pound property developments included in the Draft Local Plan, whose “trajectory” Stephen Mansbridge has said has been set?

    Unfortunately, despite its fine Codes of Conduct, GBC shows no inclination to shine any light into dark corners. Its ‘Standards’ committee even endorsing the finding that Ms Juneja was not in breach of any elements of the Code of Conduct.

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