WARRINGTON Borough Council Chief Executive Prof. Steven Broomhead says he is “satisfied that all correct procedures were followed” following complaints the council completely ignored its own constitution, by refusing a member of the public to read out a question at Monday night’s full council meeting.
Appleton resident Bill Roberts, who attended the meeting at Warrington Parr Hall to read out the question on behalf of Richard Buttrey, claims the whole process was a “stitch-up.”
Following the meeting, Mr Buttrey, who has been challenging the council over their investment in Redwood Bank, resulting in a three-year delay in the annual accounts being signed off, issued a formal complaint.
Meanwhile, an angry Mr Roberts said: “It was appalling behaviour from a council leader – he and any councillors from any party in the meeting who that thought that action acceptable should feel ashamed. Mr Bowden has once again diminished himself and his office. At some point, he needs to reflect that he works for us.
He said: “It is with some sadness and annoyance that I raise this formal complaint about the council completely ignoring its own constitution at the council meeting on September 20 2021. Please register it as such in the complaints database.”
Mr Buttrey said the Question dealt with some basic Nolan principles .. those of Openness and Honesty – “subjects close to the leader’s heart”.
“Section 11 of the Council’s constitution sets out the duties of the Audit and Corporate Governance Committee which includes “to monitor and review the Council’s audit functions and requirements in relation to both internal and external audit;”
“It is reported that the members of the ACGC have been denied a copy or details of the letter Grant Thornton sent to Professor Broomhead in May 2020 in connection with the 2017/18 accounts.
“Without this information then self evidently the Audit Group are prevented from performing their monitoring duties.
“If they have been denied a copy of the GT letter – Who has denied them, Why was it denied and under what authority was oversight denied?
Mr Buttrey said in his complaint: “In accordance with the council’s constitution, I had submitted a valid public question which was on the order paper.
“In accordance with the constitution and after advice I had subsequently advised Democratic Services that because of my reduced immune system due to ongoing treatment for Lymphoma I was not comfortable being present in the Parr Hall during the COVID emergency and was nominating Mr Bill Roberts to put the question on my behalf.
“Articles 13.22 and 13.23 of the Constitution are quite clear on this matter.
“13.22. At the meeting, the Civic Mayor will invite the questioner to ask their question. The Councillor who has responsibility will respond. Where a person is unable to be present to put their question they may nominate someone else to put the question on their behalf as originally submitted. Where no one is to be nominated, a written reply will be sent to the questioner.
“13.23. Once the Councillor responsible has replied, the questioner may ask one supplementary question which must relate to the answer just given. The supplementary question must relate to the subject of the original question and should not seek to introduce new information, extend the area of the original question, be unduly lengthy or expressed in inappropriate terms taking into account Rules 13.6 and 13.7 above.
“I understand that Mr Roberts was denied the opportunity to put the question contrary to 13.22, and by extension the right to a supplementary question. Nowhere does the Constitution allow for the question NOT be put and taken as ‘read’ unless the questioner requests it. Although Article 13.24 allows the councillor asked the question to decline to answer or submit a written response afterwards, this may only be done AFTER the question has been put. Note 13.23 specifically says “Once the Councillor has replied”. The constitution clearly expects a reply, either at the time or a comment that there will be a written response later. In order to be able to reply then self evidently, the question must first have been put.
“If my understanding of events is correct then I regard this refusal to allow the question be read not only as a breach of the constitution it was also a gross discourtesy, both to me as the originator of the question and Mr Yates who was my appointed proxy.
Mr Buttrey added: “Unfortunately, the council has a history on this subject. Three years ago I was denied the right to ask a supplementary question. On that occasion, and unknown to me when my question went through the approval process, the council had taken a recent decision to remove the right to supplementary questions from the constitution without bothering to tell me. After subsequent remonstrations by some opposition councillors it took a year or more before the right to a supplementary question was put back in the constitution. At least the refusal on that occasion had the dubious authority of the amended constitution. On this occasion, the refusal was completely contrary to the constitution.
“Had all this been choreographed beforehand, presumably with the sanction of the Leader and others? I’m left with the unfortunate thought that if that is the case it was perhaps not unconnected with the Leader being annoyed that I have submitted a complaint about him breaching the Nolan principles in connection with another matter. That complaint is still being heard and was probably uppermost in the Leader’s mind during any discussions on refusing the reading of the question. Was he allowing that complaint to colour his judgment and was it an attempt to ‘make a point’ and put me in my place? Given Councillor Bowden had advance notice of the question he no doubt had an answer and could have responded but chose not to.
“The outcome I seek from this complaint is:
1. Councillor Bowden’s written response to the question by return.
2. A formal acknowledgment that the deputy Mayor was badly advised by others, out of order and committed a breach of the constitution by not allowing the question be put in accordance with section 13.22 of the constitution.
3. A formal written apology for the breach of protocol by the Council and treatment of both myself and Mr Roberts, and an acknowledgment that in future where a questioner requires it a question will always be permitted to be read.
4. An acknowledgment that the rights of the public, as well as the council, will in future be supported and upheld in council meetings by those responsible for good order. I suggest training for those like the Mayor or deputy who chair meetings. It should not be a one-way street. The public are just as much entitled to the protection of the constitution as the council. The council is there to serve the public, and on this occasion, the public right to read a question was trampled upon by those who should have known better.”
“It was a complete stitch-up from the moment I got there to deny me a question/answer… shameful and desperate.”
In response to the complaint, Prof Broomhead MBE said: “We are satisfied that all correct procedures were followed. We would like to reassure that all questions submitted to Full Council meetings are responded to – whether in the meeting itself or in writing.”