What is the Code of Conduct?
Every authority is required to adopt a Code of Conduct that sets out rules governing the behaviour of its members.
The Code of Conduct covers areas of individual behaviour such as members not abusing their position or not misusing their authority’s resources.
And Lewisham Council has to behave according to the Model Code of Conduct for Local Authorities.
And one of the paragraphs of the Code of Conduct states that when reaching decisions, a member must give the reasons for those decisions in accordance with the authority’s and any statutory requirements in relation to the taking of an executive decision.
Now, in the case of Lewisham Council, the Mayor holds all the executive powers. Though the Mayor holds all the executive powers, he selects a cabinet to assist him, and shares his powers according to a scheme of delegation.
The executive meets in public to take its decisions, and takes decisions based on public reports (except where there is confidential information).
How is this relevant to our case?
We have to go back to the Council meeting of 26th February 2003.
There the Mayor and Cabinet met and decided that the preferred site for the new secondary school was the Ladywell Playtower site.
A site which includes several Victorian listed buildings almost entirely a freehold property of the Council with the exception of the Police Station.
One of the considerations included in the report was the following “This police station will close at the end of this year when the new police station in the Town Centre opens. The Metropolitan Police’s current plan is to then sell it on the open market”
Then the Council changed its mind and on the Mayor and Cabinet meeting of 30th June 2004decided to switch to the Ladywell Leisure Centre as the preferred site for the secondary school as “Delay in the marketing of the Police Station by the MPS and possible further delay in the confirmation of any sale has eroded the advantage of availability the Ladywell Playtower site had over other sites consulted upon – the Breakspear Campus of Lewisham College in Lewisham Way and the Ladywell Leisure Centre in Lewisham High Street.”
This reason differs from that one given to the press and the public, News Shopper 30th June 2004, or even more clearly from this passage signed by the Mayor himself
“I was advised that if the redundant Police Station in Ladywell could be added to the Playtower site it would be just possible to accommodate a new school. The Metropolitan Police Authority initially indicated that they were prepared to sell the site to the council directly.
Earlier this year it became clear that the Metropolitan Police Authority had changed their minds and I had to ask Council officials to look for an alternative site that would guarantee the school opening in 2006 on a temporary site with the move into the new building in 2009. The only option they could identify is the Ladywell Leisure Centre site.”
Our campaign asked two senior Labour members to explain this incoherent approach, the answers that we received were that there had been an “informal understanding” between the Council and the Police that the Police station would have been sold to the Council as a preferred bidder.
Now, we are asking the same question in a more formal way directly to the Council and we should have an answer at this week’s Council meeting.
Will they be able to show that they acted publicly, with transparency and not secretly?
As we saw, according to the Council’s own statutory requirements, decisions should take place at public meetings.
Will they be able to show any records of a coherent decision process?
Or will they instead insist that some sort of gentlemen’s agreement is enough for the Council to change policy on very important decisions?
The answer will come soon.
It’ll be on Wednesday 26th, at 7:30pm at Catford TownHall…