A review of Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) investigation procedures following criticism of the independent investigation
Cllr Stephen Mansbridge and former councillor Monika Juneja (in 2013)
Council leader Stephen Mansbridge (Con, Ash South & Tongham) has agreed to order a review of Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) investigation procedures following criticism of the independent investigation, commissioned by GBC, into the complaint against former councillor Monika Juneja.
Juneja was found by the investigation, led by outside consultant Dr Robin Hooper, a qualified solicitor and former council chief executive, to have committed no wrongdoing. But she was subsequently convicted when she pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to forgery, deception and pretending to be a barrister.
Councillors present were surprised by the council leader’s announcement, up until now there has been an insistence that a review by the audit and governance committee, reported last month, had covered all the necessary ground.
But the format of the review and its terms of reference where not given, despite requests during the council debate for Cllr Mansbridge to do so.
Pressure to hold a review had culminated in a question from the leader of the opposition, Cllr Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas), which was debated at last night’s full council meeting (July 7).
In her written question Cllr Reeves had asked: “What actions will the leader of the council and his Conservative group take now and in the coming months to repair the damage to this council and to restore public confidence in the Local Plan process, following the conviction on criminal charges of the former lead councillor for planning who led the Local Plan process in the last council term?”
In his response Cllr Mansbridge wrote: “It is important to separate the Local Plan process from the largely historic issues associated with the individual concerned [Juneja], as one did not impinge on the other directly.
“…The Conservative group was returned with an increased majority [in the May GBC election] which demonstrates that there is a level of confidence that has increased and not decreased, and that we are on a positive track.
“… Reputations are not rebuilt with words but with actions and positive outcomes, and that is what this administration has already delivered and will continue to delivered and will continue to deliver vigorously.”
In her supplementary question Cllr Reeves asked: “Maybe this is the right time to review our actions concerning formal investigations. The perception of a minority of our residents is that we, as a whole council, are in disrepute despite the fact that our work covers a far wider sphere than the local plan and in some areas is far more critical and immediate to individuals…
“A review of our investigation procedure would reassure those doubters of us so that we can move forward from this situation.”
Cllr Mansbridge responded: “I think this matter was considered very fully at the audit and corporate governance committee and then subsequently, as part of the review of governance.
“I have no objection to having a review into our investigative procedures but I would say that having been aware of what was happening throughout and when you look back at something through hindsight it is obviously a great deal easier than when you are actually following something through.
“But I am very clear, in support of the monitoring officer, that he was at absolute pains to go through every single procedure and to take all the right advice at the different points as this investigation went through.
“The fact that certain things transpired in particular ways was I don’t believe the fault of the investigation, I think that was done perfectly properly. But in order to inspire confidence in the public, as a further action, then I think that this is a reasonable request and I am happy to ask the monitoring officer to take that on.”
Cllr Parker (GGG, Send) said that she was glad that her original request for a governance review was being followed up and was grateful to Cllr Reeve for asking the question.
Cllr Pauline Searle (Lib Dem, Stoughton) asked what the review would cover. She said: “I fear this is going to rumble on, and on, and on unless everything is transparent and clear. So is this review going to bring forward answers to peoples questions and is it going to be transparent and open to the public?”
The monitoring officer, Satish Mistry also the head of legal and democratic services, then unusually interjected to add a request that Cllr Mansbridge, in answering Cllr Searle, was very clear about the terms of reference of the review.
However in his response, Cllr Mansbridge response failed to answer Cllr Searle’s question, instead he attacked Cllr Parker for bringing the issue of the Local Plan Panel selection into the debate.
Today (July 8) council officers are understood to be working further on the precise terms of reference for the review which is expected to be conducted by an outside party.
Comments from all political party leaders at GBC have been invited and will be added as they are received.
The debate can be seen on the GBC website. Click here to view. The agenda item in question commences just after 48 minutes into the meeting.