Members Enquiries are ignored - how to progress?
March 31, 2009 12:50 AM   Subscribe

A question specific to UK politics: Members Enquiries from local Councilors are being ignored or otherwise sidetracked - how to turn up the volume?

As I've noted previously I've gotten myself involved in UK politics.

I spoke on this certain aspects of this topic to our Local Council earlier this year, and I'll be speaking on it again (somewhat different aspect of this problem to avoid the six month lock out, vexatious petitioner rule) at another meeting next month. The public speaking or media attention isn't the problem, but some of the people I represent are getting rather anxious at the slow rate of progress.

In spite of launching at least three Members Enquiries - two from Councilors we've engaged directly at their surgeries, and one as a result of the Local Council meeting I spoke at last February - we're not seeing much information come back from the party queries are directed towards. As the expected answer of these queries is highly embarrassing, I'm not surprised that these folks seem to be intentionally disrupting the process; not replying within agreed upon time frames or, when replying, providing answers from the wrong departments that are so far off base you'd think they are dealing with a completely different question. Since I'm a adherent of "anything can happen once, twice is coincidence and the third time is enemy action", I'm now convinced this is an intentional tactic and I'd like to raise the volume.

Having been through some aspects of local politics when living back in New York, I know these things take time and I've got a lot of patience. However I also realise that the best way to compel performance from a counterparty is to assume a posture that clearly states play nice or you won't like the consequences.

Besides negative publicity what other options do we have? We've tried to engage The London Assembly but I'm finding it near impossible to get on our representatives calendar and as he's Labour I'm not convinced he'd help out if I could pitch directly to him. We are starting to more actively engage our MPs (Galloway, as noted has been very helpful and from my banking job I've informal, indirect connection into two others), but what else would work?

To summarise: we're looking for creative, legal ways to increase public scrutiny on a big corporation that isn't playing by the rules.
posted by Mutant to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Petitions, website, facebook group, ask local indie reporter to write feature, marathon/hillwalking/swim a mile/etc for change? Looks like you are already doing this

Race relations enquiry - is the behaviour of the corporation constructively racist in any way? is there any other committee on the council - equalities, environmental, etc that is relevant that may have nicer councillors on it?

Leafletting outside public facing body of headquarters of RSL?

any by elections coming up nearby? if so make this an issue in them?

Do get on your Labour rep's calendar. If he doesn't get you in, a bit of negative publicity there to get in. Have your meeting, make it clear to him that support here would be to his benefit. Individual labourites WILL move on issues like this when their electoral ass is on the line. There are labourites who will support your housing issue, on the council and in assembly. Find the ones connected with your rep.

I'm an experienced campaigner with a good track record of success. MeMail if I can be of any help.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:31 AM on March 31, 2009

Is it stuff covered by the Freedom of information act in the UK, or can it be reshaped to be covered by same? I note that there's an ongoing study by a UK University covering the effectiveness of the Act at the moment, so there may be extra leverage from that, too.
posted by rodgerd at 2:02 AM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: If its going to be embarrassing to a particular party try getting in touch with the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) for your constituency for the next election, many will already be in place, they may well be happy to pitch in with advice and practical help to get your issue on the agenda.
posted by biffa at 3:21 AM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: There are European Parliament elections coming up in June, you might also want to contact prospective MEPs...
posted by Helga-woo at 4:27 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: [First off, and distinct from everything that follows this para, I'd strongly advise you to stay the hell away from the Galloway Gang. There's a good reason that good people don't take them seriously and are inherently suspicious of the merits of things they're attached to, and it's not even that Gorgeous George is a megalomaniac gobshite - but rather that the entire outfit is a front organisation for two Trotskyite sects. People more intimately involved in politics than perhaps you have been thus far all know this and behave accordingly.]

There's a limited amount of practical advice I can think of without recourse to knowing which housing association we're talking about.

It's extremely unlikely that they're covered by FOIA, sadly.

This leaflet oulines your complain options (it's slightly out of date, though -- the Housing Corp has been replaced by a new Tenant Services Authority).


First, ask the RSL organisation (in separate requests) for:

a) a list of its tenant board members and in which building each resides
b) a list of expenditures on repair, development, etc projects undertaken by the Association, broken down by building, for each of the last five fiscal years
c) a breakdown of information held by the Association on the ethnicity of its tenants, by building.

It would help if you get different people acting in concert to make these requests rather than filing them all yourself.

If they actually give you the information you're looking for, you will be able to either prove or discount your theory.

If they refuse to hand over the residency information of tenant representatives on privacy grounds, you will at least be able to get a list of names, which you can then run against the telephone directory. If they refuse to give you the information you're looking for, or deliberately obscure the details in order to prevent you making the correlations you're trying to research, then this only counts against them when and if you escalate.

Either way, at that point you state your specific objections to the authority. I'll point you to the Equality and Human Rights Commission at this point, specifically to page 62 of the document linked there, which says:
It is unlawful for a housing organisation to discriminate against a person, or harass them, on racial grounds, in the way it makes housing available; in its lettings; in the quality of accommodation it offers; and in the services it provides [emphasis mine]
You have grounds to believe (or rather, I sincerely hope that you really do, and you should attempt to do the discovery work above before making a complaint to this effect) that they're breaking the law, and in a profoundly serious manner. A housing association which doesn't take a complaint of that nature seriously is going to find itself in very deep trouble, very quickly.

If they are indeed as opaque as you believe -- it sounds like you're likely to wind up talking to the Housing Ombudsman.

I imagine that it would be much better at that stage, when registering a formal complaint about their practices and their refusal to provide the information which you reasonably requested, to make sure that complain is signed by as many of your co-residents as possible.

And you should submit it both to the housing-related channels and to the EHRC simultaneously, making sure that you inform each that the other is also being invoked.

Seriously - do your homework and don't be filing extremely serious complaints that you can't back up.

But if you're right about this stuff, go kick their arses.
posted by genghis at 4:43 AM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: Former Local Government Committee Administrator chiming in here - although the Committee system in the UK has changed radically in the 10 years since I was involved, so apologies for any out of date suggestions.

Having looked over your linked previous comment about housing in the Whitechapel area, I'd imagine that you may also want to go through the Council's complaints procedures process if you haven't done so already. After that, not just the Housing Ombudsman, but the Local Government Ombudsman may be an option. Although I'm not sure if an RSL is outside their jurisdiction (hence Genghis is probably more on target with the above suggestion).

Meetings of the full Council are really for grandstanding by the elected Members, so I'm not sure you need to keep barking up that particular tree. Are there lower level elected meetings that you can attend and be heard at?

At a London Borough not a million miles south west of where you are, I had a particularly tenacious person similar to yourself that sort of latched on to me and made me her contact point inside the Town Hall. What mid-level council officers did you deal with as part of your previous dealings with speaking at Council Meetings? This was probably someone from Committee Services/Democratic Services/Members Services or whatever they're called nowadays - seek them out for access to any past Council Documents in relation to the matter - see what you can dig up.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 5:50 AM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: If the Members' Enquiries are not answered adequately or within the agreed time period you should make a formal complaint to LB Tower Hamlets. They have a three stage process and you should say you want your complaint to be treated as a Stage 2 because you are not happy with your original response. As Nick Verstayne says, this can be escalated all the way up to the Local Government Ombudsman.

However, as genghis says, the RSL is not actually part of the council so investigating the Members' Enquiries may actually be secondary to the real issue.
posted by ninebelow at 8:58 AM on March 31, 2009

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