Councillors and committees
Inquiry into the Activities of Derek Osbourne
- Meeting of Policy and Finance Committee, Thursday 3 July 2014 7:30 pm (Item 7.)
- View the background to item 7.
To propose the establishment of an Inquiry into the activities of the former Leader of the Council Derek Osbourne during his time in Office, with particular reference to those related to children and young people.
The Committee considered a proposal from the Leader of the Council to establish an Inquiry into the activities of the former Leader Derek Osbourne during his time in office, with particular reference to those related to children and young people.
In the light of former Councillor Osbourne’s conviction for offences involving the downloading and distribution of pornographic material involving children, animals and violence against women, it was agreed that an appropriately qualified independent person should be appointed to conduct an Inquiry. The purpose would be to establish whether there was any evidence of anything improper or which gave reasonable cause for concern in relation to any activities within the Council and beyond, but with specific emphasis on children and young people, arising from anything that Mr Osbourne, did or caused to happen, in his role as Councillor or Leader.
The Inquiry, to be supported by the Corporate Solicitor, Head of Corporate Governance and the Head of Children’s Social Care, would examine, amongst other things, the extent of Mr Osbourne’s involvement in and influence over the management of child safeguarding, the extent to which he might have been involved in other child related activities and the nature of any such involvement, whether Mr Osbourne was able to direct public funds towards areas in which he had a particular interest and whether he had any involvement in these interests outside his formal role as Leader of the Council. It would also review the process of any such grant awards and whether those engaged in the relevant activities were subjected to the criminal records checking regime.
The Inquiry would also be empowered to develop and submit recommendations on how Councillors who engaged in matters with regard to schools, youth and safeguarding might be better scrutinised, without affecting their ability to perform their duties
The Inquiry would be able to interview and obtain evidence from current and former Members and Officers, partners of the Council and any other relevant party. It was agreed that it should be able to access all relevant Council documentation and, so far as possible, records and the minutes of certain political Group meetings and other private party meetings where issues around safeguarding, education and the theatre might have been discussed.
The Committee, together with Councillor Margaret Thompson, the former Lead Member for Childrens Health and Wellbeing, examined and raised questions about various aspects of the proposed arrangements, including the powers and scope of the investigation, the extent of potentially sensitive material to be released into the public domain, the impact of the Inquiry on Childrens Services and Mr Osbourne’s own family, the arrangements for interview, and overlap with the initial Police investigations and report. Members also discussed the extent of Mr Osbourne’s role and involvement in decision making as Leader
The Leader emphasised that the form of the Inquiry would be determined by the independent person appointed to lead it. There was no reflection intended on the work of Childrens Services and he hoped that the Inquiry would demonstrate to Ofsted that there was no cause for concern. In view of Councillor Thompson’s experience and background knowledge he invited her to work with the Chair of the Inquiry to advise on the shape of it. Whilst the Council’s governance arrangements had never authorised decision making by singe Members, even under the former Executive model, it was emphasised that Leaders had the ability to shape and influence beyond their formal powers. The Police investigation had been limited in scope and hadn’t examined what had taken place in the Council.
It was acknowledged that the Inquiry would have no statutory powers and couldn’t compel witnesses or Party Groups to co-operate. The Chair of the Inquiry would need to decide what was conducted in public but it was felt that all sensitive material and discussions should be dealt with in private. There was no objection to interviews being recorded or the presence of third party representatives to support interviewees if required. It was agreed that each Group Leader, and not just the Leader of the Council, should be consulted by the Corporate Solicitor on the appointment of the person to undertake the Inquiry.
Councillor Liz Green, the Leader of the Opposition, emphasised that she would recommend Liberal Democrats co-operated with the proceedings but had no powers to enforce the request. It was emphasised that Mr Osbourne had been suspended from the Group and, therefore his role as Leader of the Council, immediately upon his arrest.
The work of the Inquiry would be assisted by a cross party four Member working group comprising Members who were not serving on the Council during Mr Osbourne’s period of Office. The Group would act as a reference point for the independent person leading the Inquiry and would receive and comment upon their initial findings. Although there was a view that the working group should be composed entirely of independent Members, or have a different composition, the Committee felt that its size was appropriate and elected Members had an important oversight role. The Leaders of the respective Groups would notify the Head of Corporate Governance of their nominations to the working group in due course.
Members noted that a sum of £10,000 would be set aside to meet the costs associated with the Inquiry. The findings were due to be reported to the Committee by its meeting on 4th December 2014.
RESOLVED that –
1. an Inquiry into the activities of former Councillor Derek Osbourne be established with the remit set out in paragraphs 9-11 of the report;
2. the Inquiry be undertakenby a suitably experienced and qualified person who is independent of the Council and supported by the Corporate Solicitor, the Head of Corporate Governance and the Head of Children’s Social Care;
3. the Corporate Solicitor, in consultation with the Leader of the Council and the Leaders of the Liberal Democrat and Labour Groups, be authorised to appoint the person to undertake the Inquiry;
4. A cross party group of 4 Councillors, comprising two members of the Conservative Group, one member of the Liberal Democrat Group and one member of the Labour Group, none of whom shall have served on the Council during Mr Osbourne’s period in office, be established in order to oversee the Inquiry and receive and comment upon the initial findings;
5. A budget of £10,000 be established to meet all costs associated with the conduct of the Inquiry and the finalisation and publication of its report; and
6. The findings of the Inquiry be submitted for consideration to the meeting of the Policy and Finance Committee on 4th December 2014.
Voting - Unanimous
(An amendment to item 4) that the working group should be composed entirely of independent members was LOST.
Voting for the amendment; Councillors Sushila Abraham, Liz Green, Rachel Reid and Thay Thayalan (4)
Voting against the amendment; Councillors Eric Humphrey, Gaj Wallooppillai, Rowena Bass, David Cunningham, Kevin Davis, Roy Arora, Phil Doyle, Richard Hudson and Linsey Cottington (9)