North Kensington Library – Dictat Versus Scrutiny

ReclaimDemoWe were recently copied in to the formal complaint reproduced below which was emailed by Councillor Robert Atkinson, leader of the Opposition Labour Group on the Council, to the Town Clerk, Nicholas Holgate, on 11 April 2016.

Dear Mr Holgate,

I am writing to you with a formal complaint as regards the lack of due process and recognition of scrutiny committee concerns in the Cabinet’s key decision regarding the pre-lease of the current North Kensington Library building to Notting Hill Preparatory School (NHPS).

The Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee (H&PSC) at its meeting on 6 January 2016 was alerted to the Cabinet’s approval of Corporate Property awarding a pre-lease to NHPS on a non-competitive basis and with no open tender process. Cllr Marshall, as Chairman, and other members questioned if Corporate Property were certain it had provided best value and the Committee expressed concerns that an open, competitive process had not been followed in this case. Cllr Mackover also stated that when looking at the process through the eyes of a tax payer the test for best value would hinge on an open tender process. Given that the Committee expressed dissatisfaction with the process that had been followed the Chairman asked that the KD be investigated and called the decision in. (Ref: minutes of this meeting a published with papers for H&PSC 9 March 2016).

In Mid-March when we saw that the KD on this had been agreed, Cllr Blakeman as our housing spokesperson, wrote to Cllr Marshall as to when this decision would be presented again for scrutiny at the H&PSC and was informed on 17th March “It transpired when we discussed it that the decision had already been taken so there was no opportunity for us to call it in”.

Not only is this a flagrant disregard of the scrutiny process by the Cabinet and the key role scrutiny committees have in the process of ensuring good governance and governance that is supported by local residents and tax payers, but a very unwise approach to a highly sensitive decision being keenly observed by the local community.

Labour Group members of the H&PSC and PRSC, as local councillors, have made relevant Cabinet Members very aware over the last two years of the importance of the fate and future of the North Kensington Library and the historic building it occupies, and that local residents and users of the building are strongly against any lease to a private prep-school and if the building is no longer suitable for a modern library – which they question and has yet to be demonstrated – then it should be maintained as a public building offering direct services to the public either through council social services or a lease to voluntary sector organisations.

The approval of a pre-lease to the NHPS with no transparency or open tender process will just add oil to the fire and confirm in local tax payers’ eyes the view that, not only are their concerns not valued but that even the concerns of the SC overseeing these decisions – and the concerns of Councillors from both the majority and minority party – have been ignored.

Sincerely

Cllr. Robert Atkinson
Leader Labour Group

We were struck by the very strong wording of Cllr Atkinson’s complaint which we absolutely welcome and applaud. He received a longwinded and almost entirely dismissive reply from the Town Clerk which was an almost exact duplicate of the reply sent to us when we made a similar complaint on 7th March. We decided not to dignify this insulting reply by reproducing it on this blog, but we did upload it here for the benefit of any of our readers who might wish to read the full text. Regular readers won’t need reminding that we have been working hard over recent weeks to raise the profile of this issue, starting with our blog on 27th February entitled “What Future For North Kensington Library?”

We feel we would be remiss in our duty if we didn’t comment on the breathtaking arrogance of the Tory Cabinet as illustrated by this affair. We weren’t the least bit surprised when the Town Clerk adopted a superior and dismissive attitude toward us – we already knew that we are despised by the Tory leadership and by the officers who serve them – but we were somewhat surprised, and more than a little dismayed, to see the same arrogant and dismissive attitude used with such impunity towards the leader of the Opposition Group and even towards their own Scrutiny Committee.

However, there is nothing new in this attitude of casual disregard of the scrutiny system by the Hornton Street cabal which routinely displays a similar disdain for Public Consultation that has been particularly marked in the Lancaster Road area in recent years. When the Isaac Newton lease was awarded in 2014 local councillors complained that neither they nor local residents had been consulted and the Chair of the Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee criticised the failure of Cabinet to allow any public consultation. Cabinet dismissed these criticisms out of hand, but one has to wonder why everyone except the Cabinet seems to think there should be wider consultation on these major changes to the Lancaster Road area, starting with the loss of the Isaac Newton Centre and continuing recently with the loss of the Westway Information Centre and the North Kensington Library and the plans for major redevelopment of the Lancaster Youth Centre site.

Perhaps Cabinet needs reminding that Public Consultation in general, and Scrutiny Committees in particular, exist to perform a vital function, to guard against autocratic abuse of power and to encourage and facilitate transparency and inclusiveness. However it would appear that this Cabinet holds itself accountable to no-one for its autocratic, partisan and self serving actions and leadership style. This needs to change.

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