I have today sent the following letter (copied to all Councillors)
Councillors Rooth, Mansbridge, Goodwin and Gunning
Guildford Borough Council,�
PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL 15th May 2012
Your cross-party letter to Martin Giles of 11th May
On Friday 11th May, I became aware of a letter you jointly and severally wrote to Mr Martin Giles as editor of the Guildford Dragon requiring him to publish it on his web site.
I am unaware of the details of any responses (if any) from any of the other individuals named in your letter or from Mr Giles himself, and I am assuming they will take such action or not as they see fit.
For my own part, I have taken advice and I am informed that I would have an excellent case for defamation against you all jointly and severally as a result of the inaccurate and ill-advised remarks you have made and the contention that, in concert with the others named, I have ‘maliciously’ set out to ‘misrepresent’ the Chief Executive, Mr David Hill.
I have provided a full evidence pack to my solicitor and I am very confident that, not only is there no case for me to answer, it is very clear that, were I in fact to have been malicious, I would have released many more facts and complaints about the behaviour of the Chief Executive.
I am deeply shocked by the strong-arm tactics employed rather crudely in your letter, as indeed I am by the apparent aggression employed in the conduct of the management of a supposedly democratic institution.
At the Corporate Improvement Scrutiny Committee (the Committee) meeting on 26th April three of the parties named in your letter (Martin Giles, Alderman Bridger and I) were present to witness a thoroughly undemocratic scene. Nothing I have seen at Local Authority committee meetings around the country over many years could come close to matching the apparent aggression and contempt with which the presenting officer – who happened to be the Chief Executive standing in for the former Strategic Director (‘the Officer’) – treated the Councillors.
For example, everyone in the public gallery, Gordon Bridger and I who had been addressing the Committee, and the Councillors themselves will have witnessed the Officer (in my view aggressively) interrupting Councillor Reeves who was making a point about the impact of the process upon the staff – similar to the point I had made in my address and almost identical to that which was repeated days later by Councillor Rooth on the pages of the Surrey Advertiser – on the grounds (as I understand it) that discussion of staff issues should be off-limits for the committee. Would you mind explaining why there was such speculation in the Officer’s report if it was not a topic for discussion.
Additionally, the DCA (David Clarke Associates) report was much starker in its prognosis for the Philharmonic staff – This is the report that was to have been annexed to the Agenda but the final version of which the Officer (over a period of eight days between publication of the Agenda and the meeting itself, let alone the prior period of preparation) had been unable to source despite it having been made available to me and others confidentially by Mr Miles on 12th January.
Councillor Nelson-Smith made a very clear, and to my mind sensible point that there should be two ‘tracks’ of investigation, namely (1) what provision Councillors are prepared to sanction for funding (the Philharmonic and/or the arts in general), and (2) what should be the model for the future provision (or classical music and/or the arts in general). This seems to me to be the very essence of the type of topic and methodology that the “Corporate Improvement” part of the Committee title is meant to represent.
The discussion that ensued (that seemed to have a lot of traction around the table from various of the Councillors) about whether the Committee should establish a sub-committee and consider the questions both of the Philharmonic and provision for the arts in general was sliced through by the Officer who claimed that:
- the Committee had no powers to set up a sub-committee – I refer you to your own Constitution, Part 2, Article 08, Scrutiny Committees 8.1(b)
- “to appoint such sub-committees as they consider appropriate to fulfil those overview and scrutiny functions”; and
- discussion of the Philharmonic and arts funding generally was not on the Committee’s work plan and they would first have to get the work plan amended. Again I refer you to your own Constitution, Part 2, Article 08, Scrutiny Committees 8.1(d and f)�
- “to approve overview and scrutiny work programmes so as to ensure that the time of each committee is effectively and efficiently utilised”;
- “to review and advise on all existing policies of the Council, including making recommendations for future options to the Leader/Executive”;
As a result of this intervention, the outcome of the committee discussion was probably altogether different from that which might have been agreed by the elected members. The task of consultation and feedback was left with Councillor Powell and the Officer who were required “to urgently consult” with other relevant bodies.
The Committee has the constitutional right (and moral responsibility?) according to Part 2, Article 08, Scrutiny Committees 8.2 (a) (ii and iv) to:
- “conduct research, community and other consultation in the analysis of policy issues and possible options;” and
- “liaise with other external organisations operating in the area, whether national, regional or local, to ensure that the interests of local people are enhanced by collaborative working.”
Both of these provisions are consistent with the Councillors’ requests.
More importantly, they seem very clearly to contradict the ‘guidance’ (or, as I saw it, warning) given to me by three separate people as a result of a meeting prior to the Committee meeting between Mr Hill, Mr Ron Flux, Senior Administrative Assistant, Legal and Democratic Services and Councillor Phillips, the Committee Chair.
I think it is important to document my involvement from the outset and then to refer specifically to the allegation that I have ‘chosen to misrepresent’ the Chief Executive.
Firstly, let me say that, If there is any such misrepresentation, I apologise unreservedly for any nuances I have failed to either pick up on or that I have failed to explain clearly in any description of events.
In light of the fact that my motives and the accuracy of my recollection have been called into question, I feel it appropriate and necessary to describe the circumstances and general occurrences surrounding a meeting at the end of January to which I was called, in my capacity as a Trustee of the South East Music Trust (SEMT), by Jim Miles when he was still Strategic Director of the Council. The meeting invitation was ‘Confidential’ and the meeting itself was held in secret (‘Chatham House’ rules applied). I will not list the attendees at the meeting except to say that a Councillor was present along with some staff and other individuals.
I will not go into detail about the content of the meeting and the matters for discussion (I would not even have mentioned this meeting had my integrity not come under attack in such a way) but your Councillors might, in my view justifiably, question the general rules surrounding ‘off-the-record’ meetings which seem to fly in the face of your own Community Engagement Strategy 2011, which requires Openness and Transparency.
The ‘secret’ meeting left those present under no illusions that a clear direction had been set by a member of the Executive Committee that the Philharmonic would close this Summer, that formal consultations had been held with staff and that the aim was to try to save face by salvaging something of the Philharmonic for the next season through a series of four concerts at G-Live; this would, however, be without any of the existing internal management structure remaining in place. I will not reveal any additional elements – these items are relevant because of what happened prior to and at the Scrutiny Committee meeting. Mr Miles subsequently wrote a confidential letter to the South East Music Trust on 31st January with a formal request for support. I have no reason to believe that Mr Hill was ignorant of the existence, purpose, content and attendees at that secret meeting nor of the letter.
As a result of the ‘secret’ meeting and correspondence, I kept my eyes open for the item to appear on the agenda of the Executive Committee on 22nd March when it was published eight days prior – as had been anticipated by Mr Miles.
I later learned both that Mr Miles had left the employ of the Council and that the Philharmonic topic was scheduled to be heard by the Corporate Improvement Scrutiny Meeting on 26th April.
As soon as the agenda appeared, I registered my desire to address the committee. I subsequently became aware that the Committee Chairman, Councillor Tony Phillips, had invited me to address the committee and be prepared to answer questions – with particular reference to the SEMT and its constant support for the Philharmonic over SEMT’s 40-year existence. I prepared the first draft of my address and shared it with one of my fellow trustees. I subsequently redrafted this on 23rd April.
The next day, two days before the Committee meeting, on 24th April, I received an email message from Mr Flux, asking if he could call me; I responded by email with a time that afternoon when I would make myself available to take his call. On my way home from business meetings in London that morning, I bumped into Councillor Phillips outside his house and he told me that I should expect a call from one of the officers. Councillor Phillips informed me, as far as I recall – I was not making notes in the street – that he had had a meeting with Mr Hill that morning and that Mr Hill was instructing his officer to request that I should not address the meeting but instead should arrange to meet with Mr Hill privately in his office. Councillor Phillips seemed uneasy at the intervention and was keen for me to attend the meeting to inform the discussion.
I received the call from Mr Flux as arranged; he told me that the Chief Executive had requested that I should not address the committee ‘in case it might prejudice any involvement SEMT might want with the Philharmonic going forward’ or words to that effect – I do not recall whether this was described as my having been uninvited by the Chairman or simply advised not to speak. I was also told during the course of these conversations, that another speaker (representing ‘another potentially interested party’) had been similarly warned/advised and had elected to not address the Committee. I decided to change substantially what I would have said and represent myself and not SEMT at the meeting.
It is important to note that I would have described the history of the relationship between SEMT and the Philharmonic since SEMT was founded forty years ago. I would have sought to highlight the omissions in the Chief Executive’s report relating to the additional leverage SEMT gave to the Council’s funding of the Philharmonic, and I would have referred to the efforts SEMT had made to establish a Friends organisation despite the reluctance of the Executive Committee (at that time led by Andrew Hodges). These would, in my opinion (supported by the Chair’s request for me to give evidence) have been crucial facts for the Committee’s consideration.
I put a call in to Mr Hill’s office on the afternoon of 24th April with a view to asking him directly about the issue of addressing the Committee. In the meantime, I received a call from his PA to arrange a meeting with the Chief Executive – presumably as a result of the meeting he had had with Cllr Phillips that morning to ask me to tell her on what days I could not make a meeting with Mr Hill; I suggested she propose a date to me when I had my diary open and we could agree a time then and there as I have a busy day job and am often nowhere near Guildford. She told me she would need to come back to me – I am still waiting.
In the meantime, on the afternoon of the Committee meeting I received a return phone call from Mr Hill – who first said that he did not know who I was (I had clearly not been causing any great aggravation to him with my letter-writing!). Mr Hill was careful to advise me that appearing at the Committee meeting could preclude SEMT from being involved in the future of the Philharmonic – and it is possible that I read into this a veiled threat that was not there (namely, if you address the meeting we will not include you in any future discussions). I informed him that I did want to be involved in the discussions about the future but that I still intended to address the Committee in my own right.
I consequently set aside the references within my originally proposed text and refocused on my personal views. I did make reference in my address to the fact that the Chief Executive had advised me to steer clear of any role SEMT could have in any solution. A copy of my address as delivered has been provided to Mr Flux and Mr Hill can be made available to any of you upon request.
What I witnessed at the Committee meeting re-emphasised my feeling that there was clear interference, rather than that my impression had been misguided. I was clearly not alone, since the discussion as the gallery emptied after the Philharmonic item made it quite clear that all of the spectators were in agreement.
Let me highlight a further section from your own Constitution Part 2, Article 08, Scrutiny Committees 8.2 (b) (vi) which states that the Committee may:
- “question and gather evidence from any person (with their consent) and require information from partner organisations.”
There is nothing that I have seen in the Constitution that qualifies this right, nor that disqualifies anyone giving evidence from any future process or arrangement with the Council. The realisation of this (unfortunately after the Committee meeting) led me to claim, rather than assert a feeling that the Chief Executive had indeed interfered with the process and witnesses who had a legitimate reason and had made a timely and accepted request to address the Committee. I have read and seen nothing since then that would suggest otherwise, but if you have clear evidence that this is not the case or that I have misinterpreted the role, rights and duties or actions of the Chief Executive in this matter, please provide it to me and I will apologise publicly and without reservation to Mr Hill.
In the meantime, I have noted the following from Part 5 of the Policies and Protocols relating to the Constitution – Procurement Policy and Strategic Framework (Annex 5) – Relationships (Partnerships):
“The Council fully acknowledges the importance of partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors, together with other public bodies acting at national, regional and local levels.
The Council will foster open and constructive dialogue with all involved or who may have something to offer towards service delivery to the community. Through this approach, new procurement methods to deliver services more efficiently, effectively and economically will be developed and encouraged.”
This again does not suggest that any potentially interested party keen to participate in or assist in the future of the Philharmonic would have compromised its position by engaging publicly in the Committee meeting in ‘constructive dialogue’.
The Officer asserted during his presentation to the Committee (and repeated at least once during the debate) that he resented the rumours about the future of the Philharmonic, that he regretted that these rumours had reached the ears of the ‘my officers’ and that he had “apologised sincerely” to all of the staff concerned. I am sure those present in the public gallery (and presumably the assembled councillors) will recall the context, content and tone of his remarks to this effect.
I spoke in an unguarded moment to the Philharmonic staff the day after the meeting to ask whether they had “ever had an apology from the Chief Executive about the way they are being treated” and was told that they had not. For an apology to be “sincere” it must have been noticed and should not have been capable of any misunderstanding. I sincerely hope that this denial, not meant to be disloyal, does not come back to haunt the diligent, professional and absolutely loyal team which has, under such difficult circumstances, done a truly excellent job of keeping the Philharmonic together, and maintaining both its high reputation in the music world and Guildford’s cachet for having its own professional concert series, supported by the Council. In any event, I would remind the Council of its own policies in the area of whistle-blowing if, in fact, it is found that responding innocently to a ‘loaded’ question might amount to such.
I have already demonstrated (by reference to the ‘secret’ meeting) that there had been a move to close the Philharmonic and that this was not a matter of rumour, rather a manifestation of a process which had been kept away from the scrutiny of Councillors and which, by mistake or misrepresentation of the facts, was destined to remain concealed from the Committee.
It was suggested in your letter that my reference to a lack of responsiveness was an echo of the Guildford Vision Group’s impression. This is not the case (albeit it may have been coloured by the lack of engagement GVG has experienced to date).
The direction from the Committee was for Mr Hill and Councillor Jen Powell to get together with the utmost urgency with potentially interested parties and to revert to the Committee on 16th June with a report. Mr Hill did make a throw-away remark in accepting the request, that he was very busy and did not have the staff to put this onto – I remember thinking at the time, why not the existing Philharmonic staff since they have no programme to plan for 2012-13?
I note that as at 11am on Tuesday 15th May the Minutes of the Meeting (which took place on 26th April) had not yet appeared on the Guildford Borough Council Website, so as yet there is no confirmation of that required course of action in the public domain.
I pulled together information about Worthing Borough Council’s funding (since there had been a difference between the Chief Executive’s figures and mine) which I sent through to Mr Hill the day after the meeting (27th April) along with a copy of my address as delivered. The following day, in response to an email from Alderman Bridger (copied to Mr Hill), I set out an offer to set up and run a workshop and included a summary of how I thought this could be run to reach more quickly a recommendation for the Committee. A copy of both of these emails can be made available upon request.
I had thought that, since the Chief Executive was so busy (and wearing several hats at once), this might offer the Council an opportunity to engage with the community, hear from people in the music world and enable him to fulfil his target of reporting back in time for inclusion within the next Committee meeting on 16th June.
Between 27th April and midday today I have yet to receive any acknowledgement of receipt of information from Mr Hill, and I still await a response – especially discourteous as I was offering, in and amongst my busy day job, to do a lot of the legwork for him. How long does it take, after all, to send an email acknowledging receipt and to say he would be in touch in the next few weeks?
Councillor Jen Powell, for whom I have immense respect both personally and professionally, did reply and said she would discuss this with Mr Hill. When I followed this up with Cllr Powell on 11th May, I was told that she was to have had a meeting with Mr Hill on the morning of 10th May – the first meeting two full weeks following the urgent action item given to Mr Hill by the Committee – but this was cancelled due to Mr Hill being busy with other things.
I have received confirmation from my fellow SEMT trustees – including the Chairman whom I recommended Mr Hill and Councillor Powell should call in the first instance – that neither of them has heard anything from Mr Hill’s office.
You will see, therefore, that my own frustration with what I see as the absorption of the energy of well-meaning members of the public (voters, ratepayers, residents, stakeholders, etc) through delay might lead me to complain about a lack of response.
Finally, I turn to what you described as “the rather bizarre campaign (I) conducted against the CEO through the Surrey Advertiser’s letters page” referring to his home base in South Oxfordshire.
I have, for many years, been a regular letter-writer on issues that I feel strongly about in respect of our local community and democracy. I have provided on my website copies of all of my letters to the Surrey Advertiser since 2009 that show that, whilst my approach may at times be robust, I have been consistent in my expressions of concern about the performance of the democratic responsibilities at the Council. I can provide you with a URL if you require it.
I have indeed referred on a number of occasions to the fact that David Hill, Chief Executive, lives in South Oxfordshire. This in itself is not a problem (unless it has struck a nerve in the Borough’s corridors of power) as I have made clear in the ‘offending’ article; the point that may have been missed is this: all elected councillors and residents and ratepayers of the town should be aware that the Chief Executive’s role should be restricted to the efficient and effective management of the machinery of Local Government and the implementation of the Community’s agreed Policy Agenda – all the more so when he or she lives outside the area.
Looking briefly at your contention that none of the Chief Executives in the last 25 years have had home addresses in the Borough:
- David Watts gave fantastic service to Guildford for very many years, during which time he made it his business to be seen and to attend as many events as he could – and he still does! I do not doubt in any way that Mr Watts always put Guildford first and it always mattered deeply to him what people thought of Guildford and his Council.
- As I understand it, David Williams, David Hill’s predecessor, had a home base, if I recall, in the Portsmouth area, but he did take an apartment in Guildford and he was present at a good number of Guildford’s functions and events. The suggestion that his home base is outside the borough but without recalling his local pied à terre is, if my memory serves me correctly, frankly unacceptable.
- This Chief Executive can turn his back on Guildford when he leaves for home in the evening and at weekends in the sure knowledge that, in the longer term at least, he need not worry about the future of the arts in Guildford, the traffic gridlock in the town centre, the loss of day places for the elderly of our town, the loss of the shuttle bus to vulnerable residents, the relocation of the bus station, etc. Why should he have the same level of passion as we locals when it comes to fixing some of the deep-seated issues in our town?
If the Chief Executive is being judged on, say, the cost of operating the functions of the Council, it seems only logical to me that a non-local incumbent might be happier (than a local one) to close non-statutory services to reduce the cost-burden on the budget. If we as a Community and a majority of the elected Councillors want these to continue, it is up to people like me to raise issues, promote debate and to ensure that all Councillors are informed of our views and empowered by our support. This is some part of what the Big Society and Localism is all about. The democratic functions of the Council should not be the preserve of the Chief Executive.
In summary, therefore, the three allegations are:
- that my reference to Mr Hill’s lack of responsiveness is just an echo of Guildford Vision Group’s comment – this is not so, it is a specific and ongoing comment;
- that I misrepresented my conversation with Mr Hill – I do not believe so, and in any event, it seems now to me to have been both wrong and inappropriate to seek to influence my evidence to the Committee in any way;
- that I have acted maliciously and, by combining the allegations against the respective parties in such a way, that I have somehow colluded or acted in concert with the other parties – I do, of course know the other parties; I am indeed a member of the Steering committee of Guildford Vision Group and Alderman Bridger sat alongside me at the Committee meeting in question; I have not colluded with them and I believe that, whilst my expression of exasperation may not have been as mild as it could have been, my motivation and action has not been malicious.
I have made all of this material, including my earlier drafts for presentation to the Committee and the copies of Mr Miles’s email, letter to the South East Music Trust, DCA Final Report, available to my legal advisers.
In the meantime, I have become aware in the past few days that there is an Information Life Management (or some such) programme being implemented at Guildford Borough Council. This makes sense in any organisation with the caveat that it must not be used scurrilously to destroy documents that may be required in any legal challenges.
Given not only your allegation of my so-called misrepresentation, but also your reference to other remarks and campaigns I have conducted in the pages of the Surrey Advertiser (presumably to try to discredit me), I wish to formally notify you that all paperwork, documents, emails, other files or notes of any kind relating to decisions made in respect of any of the following must be retained in case they are required for disclosure to a court of law. These are not restricted to any documents that could be made available under a Freedom of Information request, but relate to ALL documents dealing with:
- The procurement of G-Live;
- The negotiations and contract with HQ Theatres;
- The funding of the Philharmonic;
- The development of the Town Centre Masterplan;
- The conditional sale of land to Waitrose;
- The Friary extension;
- The proposed relocation of the bus station
- The station redevelopment;
I would suggest, given that I know Alderman Bridger was proposing to seek legal advice in respect of your joint letter, you may also need to retain for legal disclosure all public and confidential documents relating to the departure of former officers, Jim and Elaine Miles.
Equally, because your letter is complaining about the comments made in the media about your Chief Executive, and his conduct is a central pillar to both your complaint and my potential legal action jointly and severally against all signatories to the letter, I would advise you to ensure that no documents, emails or other items in Mr Hill’s files and on his system should be allowed to be destroyed unless or until any outstanding claim by or against him has been finally concluded.
It is clear to me from assembling all of the documentation I have compiled that the circumstantial evidence points to the situation being perhaps even worse than I had supposed to be the case.
I have gone through the Council’s Constitution and various other of the vast suite of documents surrounding the aims, vision, values, functions, processes and practices of the Council and I believe there is a fundamental issue to be resolved.
Your letter has served to make me research not only the issues about which I feel strongly, but also the apparently dysfunctional nature of the current leadership (Senior Officer and Councillors). I am unimpressed.
Topics such as those surrounding the selection of the new Mayor and Deputy Mayor only serve to deepen the intrigue, and lead to a thoroughly sour after-taste.
I would be prepared to discuss each of these points on the record with you all so that I can understand your perspective and ensure that, where there are any errors on any party’s account (if any) these are corrected forthwith and to ensure that the enthusiasm we all share can be realigned to try, positively, to work together for the betterment of our Community.
In the meantime, I assume you will all make up your minds what you wish to do in respect of the letter you have jointly and severally signed up to and which has been sent out with explicit instructions to be made public. Unless and until it has been withdrawn I will continue robustly and, at times, noisily (but not maliciously or through misrepresentation) to defend myself and to pursue my calls for openness and transparency in the leadership of the Council.
Finally, I wish to make it absolutely clear that any involvement I have with the Guildford Vision Group is completely separate from the issues in this letter and elsewhere, unless I have otherwise stated, in any correspondence in the newspapers or the Guildford Dragon. I am a small cog in a diverse and dynamic group of people with huge professional and personal experience and with a single issue to campaign on, simply, that the Council, Surrey County Council and possibly also the Highways Agency come together to work towards a long-term future. This requires forward-thinking cohesive and confident leadership that is prepared to engage fully with the Community to devise a real vision for our children and grandchildren.
Proper engagement leads to the proper empowerment of Councillors. Failure to engage leads to discontent in some areas and apathy in others, often resulting in the disempowerment of most Councillors and the concentration of power amongst a few. I can see from my own experience in Guildford how this latter model appears to suit some of the Councillors, dissuades them from accepting engagement on any level and causes a few noisy objectors to work hard to hold the leadership to account.
I am providing a copy of my letter to all Councillors who, by extension to the party blocs to which they belong within the Council owing to the subscription of their respective leaders, should be able to judge for themselves whether all is well within the Council and whether they believe I have transgressed in my public expressions of exasperation – in which case, as I noted above, I will withdraw all such remarks and apologise to all concerned.
I will await your response but shall assume that, in the event I do not hear from you that you have withdrawn your cross-party letter to Mr Giles and your associated allegations about me by close of business on Thursday 17th May, I should expect to instruct my no-win-no-fee solicitor to prepare a claim in respect of the allegations already made and a request for a court order to make all relevant documentation available to me and to my legal advisers.
This letter is headed Private & Confidential and it should remain between us and the Councillors circulated unless I agree that it may be copied to any other party.
I am disappointed that you should have seen fit to lash out in this way and to attempt to muzzle an instrument of the media, and I hope that you will take note of the basis of my comments and act accordingly.
Julian D S Lyon, MBA (distinction), FRICS
By email to:
David.Goodwin@guildford.gov.uk; email@example.com; Stephen.Mansbridge@guildford.gov.uk; Tony.Rooth@guildford.gov.uk
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