There cannot be much doubt that for a month or two earlier this year Bexley
council operated without a Constitution. It was first
reported here in February. On 21st March Nick Dowling took
down to the Civic Offices to see if it was merely a web problem or if they had
no paper copy either. He asked Sandra Baxter, a Committee Officer, whatever that
might be, if she could let him see a copy. She told him that unfortunately the
council didn't have an up to date copy and she saw no point in showing him an outmoded one.
The council officer didn’t seem to appreciate that not having a current Constitution available was illegal so Nick asked to speak to the Monitoring Officer, Mr. Akin Alabi, and when told he was away without a substitute being appointed, it was agreed that Mr. Kevin Fox from Committee Services would give him a call. So Nick went away unable to see the Constitution which is a clear breach of the Local Government Act 2000 and waited for Fox to call him with an explanation.
The call didn’t come and as you would expect Nick didn’t leave it there. He not only complained that the law had been broken he later complained that Mr. Alabi had not responded to his initial report that Bexley council was in breach of the law again. He has now received a reply to both of his complaints and you will be pleased to know that Nick has been hallucinating all along. According to Mr. Nick Hollier, Deputy Director of Human Resources, Bexley council never did a thing wrong. Nick Dowling had been offered a copy of the Constitution when he called.
One might have thought that if that was true, Fox would have lost no time in calling Nick Dowling to tell him just how silly he had been and put the matter to rest there and then. Fortunately for Bexley council, as the Constitution had been available all the time every other aspect of Nick’s complaint was invalid…
In particular, Mr. Akin Alabi, the man responsible for upholding the law at Bexley council and who had gone away without anyone left in his place to ensure compliance had done absolutely nothing wrong…
So in summary, Bexley council’s Constitution was missing from their website for well over a month, they couldn’t provide a copy to a visitor but absolutely no one has done anything wrong, apart from Nick Dowling of course. According to Bexley’s Deputy Director of Human Resources Manager, Nick Hollier, Mr. Dowling’s motive was to cause distress to his staff…
Some might consider that some concern at being caught breaking the law would be natural, Nick recorded at the time that he felt a little bit sorry for the lady who was faced with looking for a suitable response while all her bosses were elsewhere.
It seems to me that blaming the complainant might be Mr. Hollier’s default position. My one and only complaint that went to Hollier was dismissed because I had asked for an honest answer. Not the done thing apparently.
Having read Nick Dowling’s first email it seems to me to be entirely reasonable. He made it clear that he believed the law had been broken and said he regarded it as a serious matter. His follow up after more than two weeks of broken promises was somewhat sterner. He said the lack of information was “a dereliction of duty” and said Mr. Alabi was an “abject failure” and said he intended to report Alabi to his professional body. See for yourself in the emails of 21st March and 7th April. I’m inclined to think that an honest council should be “distressed” to discover it had broken the law but if it’s the norm the staff might not see it that way.
The first two questions posed in the first of Nick Dowling’s emails are surely very important but Nick Hollier, Deputy Director of Human Resources made no reference to them in his reply. He didn’t answer any of the other questions either. What is the correct or effective response to a council that will never acknowledge it has erred, whose senior staff think nothing of lying and which appoints a watchdog (the Monitoring Officer) who turns a blind eye to their activities? I suppose the answer can only be “May 2014”.