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Review of Council Complaints Procedure To Be A Three Day ‘Desktop Exercise’

Published on: 22 Aug, 2015
Updated on: 23 Aug, 2015

review 300x225A review of arrangements for dealing with accusations of councillor misconduct, to be held following the investigation of a complaint made against the subsequently convicted Monika Juneja, will take just three days and be “primarily be a desktop exercise” but will include interviews with “key” councillors and council officers.

According to “Terms of Reference”, given to The Guildford Dragon NEWS by Guildford Borough Council (GBC), the objective is to review the arrangements currently in place and: “to propose amendments and improvements (if any) that might be necessary”. It is also stated that the review is to be “forward looking” and will result in a report with recommendations for any changes.

The review is expected to be conducted in the autumn. There is no mention of any public involvement and a question mark remains about how far the review will examine any shortcomings of the Juneja investigation. A Conservative group spokesperson said: “The new review will be forward looking and also reflective…”.

Last year (2014) an investigation, conducted by consultant and solicitor Dr Robin Hooper, of a complaint made against former councillor Monika Juneja  failed to uncover evidence of her criminal offences. Instead Dr Hooper concluded that the former councillor had committed no wrongdoing, a conclusion accepted by the council.

A week later a police investigation commenced which led to Ms Juneja’s conviction for forgery, deception and pretending to be a barrister. Charges of fraud remain on file at the direction of the Old Bailey judge who heard the case. In May this year (2015) Juneja was sentenced to to 14 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and 200 hours community service.

In June, a Guildford Borough Council (GBC) report, the Annual Governance Statement 2014-15, effectively exonerated those involved in the council’s internal investigation into Juneja’s conduct but it was admitted that the council had suffered reputational damage.

Cllr Iseult Roche

Cllr Iseult Roche

Cllr Iseult Roche (Con, Worplesdon) speaking on behalf of the Conservative group, said: “The forthcoming review of Guildford Borough Council’s future arrangements for dealing with any potential complaint of misconduct against any councillor, is welcomed by the Conservative group.

“The new review will be forward looking and also reflective, assessing what improvements may be required. Any necessary amendments or recommendations identified can then be implemented, if they are thought to be needed to improve the overall process.

“Councillors are pleased this will be a robust review and welcome that if potential improvements are found to be required, these will be followed through.

“It is vitally important both councillors and residents alike can be reassured and feel secure that any process for managing complaints is thorough, fair, effective and efficient.”

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Cllr Caroline Reeves

Cllr Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), leader of the opposition, said: “We have heard, very clearly, the dissatisfaction of some residents over the handling of the Juneja situation and I doubt a wider debate would have added anything to the copious comments already made in public.

“As ever, the interesting part will be the outcome, at that point we will be able to see if there were failings with the procedure.

“One resident told me within 24 hours of the review being agreed that it was a ‘whitewash’, and so I asked for the inclusion of political group leaders as an opportunity to ensure the feelings of all our residents would be heard.”

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker (GGG, Send) said: “I’m glad all party leaders will be consulted, but three days is a very sketchy review.

“It is ‘forward-looking’, so it is unclear if it will consider the council’s response to Monika Juneja’s criminal past.

“We know Dr Hooper, who carried out the review into Monika Juneja, did work for Guildford council, reviewing governance.  I hope the review proposes exclusion of ‘independent experts’ with a working relationship with the council.

“I think the review will not assess general governance and so won’t improve transparency. It won’t prevent election of another councillor guilty of criminal wrongdoing.

“So, broadly, this is too little, too late.”

Cllr Angela Gunning

Cllr Angela Gunning

Cllr Angela Gunning (Lab, Stoke) said: “Why limit the review to three days? Sounds rather prescriptive – and at the same time vague. Would that be three days 9 to 5 or 72 man-hours?

“I hope a report would first draw conclusions and then make recommendations. I can’t prejudge this review, so it remains to be seen whether the outcome is an improvement, enabling better and more satisfactory investigations into complaints of councillor misconduct.”

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Responses to Review of Council Complaints Procedure To Be A Three Day ‘Desktop Exercise’

  1. Mary Bedforth Reply

    August 22, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    Orwell lives.

  2. Valerie Thompson Reply

    August 24, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Three days is not long enough to do any serious investigation of wrongdoing.

    I suspect the investigations will be internal and lead to the same sort of result contained in the flawed report by Dr Robert Hooper, who probably knew former Cllr Juneja.

    Dr Hooper refused to rewrite his report after the Bar Standards Board informed him that Ms Juneja had, apparently, committed a crime.

    How long had his investigation taken? Certainly more than three days. There should be no time-limit on the research necessary to look into a councillor’s behaviour or actions, if they are considered suspicious. An independent panel should be appointed to look into all complaints.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    August 25, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    Should the review panel interview me, as a key witness in this sorry affair, I may believe they have taken the matter seriously. Dr. Hooper declined my invitation to do likewise. Will they learn anything? I suspect not.

  4. Jenny Procter Reply

    August 27, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    “Forward looking” is fine if it also looks really effectively backwards to inform what needs to be done. The review must honestly address what needs to be seriously investigated and changed in order to do this.

    I am sceptical as to whether the motive going forward is real desire for more effective and honest governance.

    As a taxpayer and resident at the mercy of decisions, policies and plans, previously under the control of a councillor with false credentials, I seriously hope that, in future, there is a desire for change, transparency and open handed dealing.

  5. Ben Paton Reply

    August 29, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Didn’t someone famously say that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it? And didn’t Churchill say that the further you look into the past the further you can see into the future?

    Is it not also the case that daylight is the best disinfectant?

    Are not the issues here the quality of GBC’s regulation of the planning process and the quality of its self-regulation? Is self regulation credible when the same people who presided over the discredited Draft Local Plan are still in charge and when they appoint the so-called investigators?

    Surely to restore public trust some completely new people are needed from outside the present ‘establishment’ who can be seen to be free to look under all the stones and to be completely independent of the council?

    Not letting in the daylight and not looking at all the facts might seem to amount to trying to forget – or worse – trying to re-write history. That’s the opposite of learning from it. The council’s reputation will not be restored with PR pronouncements and window dressing.

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