To consider a request to review a response to a petition.
It was reported that a request had been received for the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board to review the response provided by the Council to a petition calling for the Strategic Director of Children and Young People's Services (or the Chief Executive) in Rotherham Borough Council (RMBC) to issue a public statement giving the reasons for deciding to return 1400 copies of the publication ‘Voices of Despair Voices of Hope’.
Members were advised that under the petition scheme, Overview and Scrutiny Management Board will determine the request for the review and may take various actions depending on the information provided to it.
Mr. L. Harron attended the meeting as lead petitioner and set out his reasons for requesting the review of the response provided.
Referring to Mr Harron’s representations, Members sought clarification of what was meant by ‘everyone’ requiring a public statement. In response, Mr. Harron confirmed that he meant the people who had provided their voices for the publication ‘Voices of Despair Voices of Hope’. Following on, Members also sought to understand how important it was to Mr. Harron that the publication was returned by the Council. In response, Mr. Harron explained that reasons had not been given for the return of the publication and he considered that there had been dishonesty on the part of officers who had been part of the decision making process. Mr. Harron stated that he did not want to focus on dishonesty in this meeting.
Clarification was sought as to how many survivors were being represented through the petition. In response, Mr. Harron indicated that he was not prepared to indicate and that the petition was not about him, but reiterated that the outcome he wanted from a review of the response to the petition was for the original request in the petition to be acted upon by the Council.
Reference was made to the return of the publication and Members queried what had happened to the returned copies sent to Mr. Harron. In response, Mr. Harron confirmed that he had redistributed copies of the publication very quickly, with two copies sent to each MP and councillor representing the borough. Furthermore, Mr. Harron suggested that Members should seek to understand the decision making process that had led to the return of the publication following spend of £6,000 in a period of austerity.
Members sought to understand what had been communicated to Mr. Harron at the time that the publication was returned to him. In response, Mr. Harron explained that he had received an explanation from an Assistant Director in Children and Young People’s Services, but he considered the reasons given to be nonsense. He added that no officers of the Council had met with him to give him honest reasons for the return of the publication. Whilst he had met with the Chief Executive and a ward councillor, he considered that no one had provided truthful reasons. Whilst the present Chief Executive was not employed by the Council at the time of the return of the publication, Mr. Harron considered that she had the opportunity to state why the decision was taken based on information that he considered to be available to the Chief Executive.
In summary, Mr. Harron indicated that he wanted the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board to dismiss the response provided by officers. It was a matter of regret to him that the line of questioning from Members had drawn the discussion into the issues he considered to demonstrate dishonesty.
Members adjourned the meeting to have a private discussion of the issues raised in the request. Having considered the representations made by Mr. Harron, Members considered that they did not wish to review the response further and were satisfied with the information provided. Members also identified the following recommendations, which were informed by the questioning of and responses provided by Mr. Harron:-
1. That the request for a review of the response to the petition in respect of the return of the publication ‘Voices of Despair Voices of Hope’ be declined.
2. That the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board write to the lead petitioner to confirm the outcome of the Board’s deliberations and the additional recommendations.