Has Bristol City Council’s posh clown Monitoring Officer, “Li’l” Tim O’Gara, broken the law? A recent meeting of the council’s optimistically named Value and Ethics Committee revealed that Bristol has not upheld a complaint against a politician in over six years. Not impressing residents who’ve made complaints.
One complaint was about Asher “The Slasher” Craig’s private company receiving payments from Bristol City Council that personally involved “Li’l” Tim. Another revealed that “Li’l” Tim kept two separate registers of interest for the mayor. One public, one private with different entries!
Oversight of “Li’ll” Tim’s handling of complaints, so far, has been from a so-called “independent person”, appointed by ‘Li’l’ Tim whose identity is a secret.
When grilled by residents why the “independent person” wasn’t appointed in public at Full Council as required by the Localism Act, “Li’l” Tim explained, “it would be a complete misreading of the legislation to think that the appointment would need to be made by Full Council.”
Such a “misreading”, in fact, that at Full Council on 14 November an “independent person” was set to be hurriedly appointed by councillors as the law asks!
Has “Li’l” Tim been caught red-handed breaking the law?
Now into his fourth year of being bullied by Reverend Rees’s henchman “Slo” Kev Slocombe and virtually everyone else at City Hall, all is not well for local authority legal eagle ‘Li’l’ Tim O’Gara, Bristol City Council’s underperforming and underwhelming Monitoring Officer.
For it seems this senior council boss whose job is to make sure the council doesn’t break the law has been, er, breaking the law! Residents have discovered that his councillor complaints process that should involve advice from an ‘independent person’, publicly appointed by councillors, has instead involved a top secret ‘independent person’ personally appointed by L’il Tim contrary to the Localism Act.
Happily, this mystery ‘independent person’ has entirely agreed with Li’l Tim that complaints about councillors during Tim’s watch don’t need much investigating and complaints could be dismissed either without action or with pathetic actions that councillors were welcome to ignore without sanction. This unknown mystery person also agreed with Tim whenever he summarily dismissed troublesome complaints as ‘politically motivated’ or ‘vexatious’.
Residents, however, are not happy with Li’l Tim’s bollocks even if councillors are. What could be better for our dubious local political class than a broken complaints process perfectly designed to let them off the hook regardless of how bent, bullying, rude or useless they are?
As the rest of the local press are reluctant to do much reporting on this bent senior Bristol City Council manager running a bent process to let bent councillors (and Mayors!) off the hook, here’s the latest set of public statements delivered to mute councillors on the council’s ‘fraudbusting’ Audit Committee.
Note how residents are now pointing out how Li’l Tim is further breaking the law by refusing to issue the ‘section 5 report’ he’s legally obliged to. The law requires he publicly report to councillors any unlawful activity by his local authority. Even if it’s the Monitoring Officer breaking the law.
Of course, Li’l Tim has a huge conflict of interest in outrightly refusing to issue such a public report into his own law breaking activities. A simple fact that Bristol’s dim councillors appear oblivious to.
Here’s the statements. Enjoy …
Statement to Value and Ethics Committee 3 November 2023 (1)
I’m sharing my concerns about governance failures apparent from my attendance at the Value & Ethics sub-committee of the Audit Committee.
It’s clear that the Monitoring Officer (Tim O’Gara) has acted unlawfully (together with the Head of Legal Services, Nancy Rollason) in his “appointment” of Independent Persons to the members’ complaints process.
My concern is that the Council appears to be attempting to cover up this unlawful activity (or “regularise” it, as Councillor Brown has suggested in his statement to the(cancelled) Full Council Meeting on 14 November. How can councillors responsible for proper governance of the authority be apparently attempting to avoid any mention of unlawful activity by the Monitoring Officer and not call for an investigation into what has gone wrong at the City Council?
There have evidently been serious failings in the Member’s complaints process, that have not been subject to appropriate levels of scrutiny by members sitting on V&E:
• the actions of M[onitoring] O[fficer] & H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] to take upon themselves the role of selection and appointment of I[ndependent] P[erson]s, thereby failing to meet the requirements of s28 of the Localism Act, and usurping the role of members in appointments, since the last lawful appointment in 2013.
• Refusal to even provide dates of appointments of I[ndependent] P[erson]s, and an absolute refusal to provide their names (this is a public appointment. What sort of country are we living in where people can make decisions with complete anonymity?).
• the lack of openness and honesty from the M[onitoring] O[fficer] and H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] in answering public questions (We have to date received no answers to our questions to the Monitoring Officer from V&E on 3 November (when both the M[onitoring] O[fficer] and the Independent Member (Mr Adebayo) failed to attend)
• An insistence on imposing confidentiality on members of the public, when the Local Government Association (LGA) makes it clear that this is not practical (or ethical)
• The irony that given this insistence on confidentiality the H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] and M[onitoring] O[fficer] may have acted unlawfully and breached GDPR by sharing information with so-called “Independent Persons” they themselves appointed unlawfully
• Constant censoring of public questions and statements, always at the “11th hour”, with no clear explanations given. Statements critical of the M[onitoring] O[fficer] Hor H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] are pulled. Statements critical of the Independent Member on V[alues] &E[thics Committee] (Mr Adebayo) are pulled
• Refusal to publish “public interest” test criteria, despite this being LGA best practice
• The issue of whether payments made to these unlawfully appointed “I[ndependent] P[erson]s,” are lawful items of account.
• A process governed by secrecy on the grounds of “confidentiality”. Poor quality management reports, with key information omitted. The H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] has misled members by telling them that reports this year were in the same format as prior years. This is categorically untrue. This year she omitted the dates claims were received, thereby obscuring the length of time taken to decide on complaints
• Failing to report on key Local Government Ombudsman complaints findings that noted unacceptable delays in deciding complaints (over 5 months in some cases) and that required a revised Member Complaints Code to be prepared by the Council.
The Full Council meeting on 14 November planned to push ahead with the “ratification” of 3 I[ndependent] P[erson]s, following what the Monitoring Officer described as a “robust “process. Members need to be clear exactly what that process was and whether it met the full requirements of the Localism Act. The public should also have a right to know the backgrounds of these individuals. These 3 I[ndependent] P[erson]s should not be appointed if they have had any dealings with any complaints to date.
I would ask Members of the Audit Committee, in accordance with their responsibility for governance matters, to consider:
• whether the M[onitoring] O[fficer] and H[ead] O[f] L[egal] S[ervice] have met the standards of Honesty, Openness, Integrity, Accountability and Leadership in their management of the members complaints process, their reporting to V&E, and their responses to public scrutiny.
• what steps you need to take to restore full public confidence in the role of the Monitoring Officer, given that the current post holder Mr Tim O’Gara has acted unlawfully but refuses to take responsibility for his actions and refuses to issue a section 5 report (LGHA 1989) to report unlawful activity by a local authority.
• Whether the attempt to “ratify” I[ndependent] P[erson]s appointments at Full Council meets the legal requirements of the Localism Act 2011 in full.
• Why the scrutiny process of Audit and Values & Ethics committees failed to pick up failings in the members’ complaints process. Most significantly the unlawful appointments of I[ndependent] P[erson]s (possibly over the last 7 years).
Statement to Value and Ethics Committee 3 November 2023 (2)
It is clear that members of the public who have made complaints about Councillors already felt badly let down by the process. Now that we know the Monitoring Officer himself has acted unlawfully and still refuses to admit to this, or follow due process as set out in LGHA 1989, how can we have any trust in governance at Bristol City Council?
Due to the unfortunate events that led to the Full Council meeting being postponed, Bristol City Council is still in breach of the Localism Act 2011, by not having any lawfully appointed “Independent Persons”.
Since this has been the case since about 2017, another week of this situation isn’t going to make a significant difference, but it is very disappointing that the Monitoring Officer is failing to provide clear information about what has happened.
Not only is he not coming forward to volunteer information, he is also failing to give responses to questions asked formally.
On the 3rd of November, myself and another member of the public submitted written supplementary questions as part of the Value & Ethics committee as the Monitoring Officer didn’t attend that meeting. I have not had any response and I do not believe the other member of the public has had any response either.
I was led to expect a response by the 6th November to a formal complaint (attached below) I submitted to Bristol City Council on the 16th of October about the “Independent Persons” situation. I did not receive a response.
On a separate matter, the Monitoring Officer said in full council on the 31st of October that he would give a written explanation of why the minutes Extraordinary Full Council were not recorded accurately in line with current Council policy. I have not had a response.
I do not find it acceptable that the Monitoring Officer is refusing to answer questions that have been properly submitted.
I still believe that the “Independent Persons” matter requires a ‘Section 5 report’ as per the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 which puts a personal public duty on a Monitoring Officer to write a report if “any proposal, decision or omission by the authority…constitutes, has given rise to or is likely to or would give rise to a contravention by the authority…of any…rule of law’.
I believe a failure to write a report is also in breach of section A13.03(b) of Bristol City Councils Constitution, which reads:
“(b) Ensuring lawfulness and fairness of decision making
After consulting with the Head of Paid Service and Chief Finance Officer, the Monitoring Officer will report to the Full Council or to the Mayor in relation to an executive function if he or she considers that any proposal, decision or omission would give rise to unlawfulness or if any decision or omission has given rise to maladministration. Such a report will have the effect of stopping the proposal or decision being implemented until the report has been considered.”
It is understandable that mistakes happen and things get missed. It is not acceptable that the Officer who is meant to be promoting high standards in the rest of the Council is refusing to answer questions, and refusing to carry out the public duty imposed on him as Monitoring Officer.
Please will you write to the Monitoring Officer and tell him he does need to actually follow the law and BCC constitution, even if it’s embarrassing for himself. Or he could explain why he doesn’t need to do those things, which is one of the supplementary questions I asked on the 3rd of November.
Text of complaint ref: 40910847 made on 16th October 2023
I wish to make two complaints with regard to how complaints about Member Code of Conduct have been handled.
Under Section 28 of the Localism Act 2011 there is a very clear requirement that the independent persons involved in the process are required to be approved by a vote of the councillors: “a person may not be appointed under the provision required by subsection (7) unless the person’s appointment has been approved by a majority of the members of the authority”
My understanding is that the last time that happened in Bristol City Council was in 2013. Further, my understanding is that unfortunately that independent person passed away in 2016.
My first complaint is that any of the independent persons who have been appointed without having been approved by the required vote, have been appointed unlawfully. By implication, that means none of the complaints that have been handled since 2016, including my own complaint, have been handled in a lawful manner.
Under Section 5 of Local Government and Housing Act 1989 which lists the duties of a Monitoring Officer: “it shall be the duty of a relevant authority’s monitoring officer, if it at any time appears to him that any proposal, decision or omission by the authority, by any committee, or sub-committee of the authority, by any person holding any office or employment under the authority or by any joint committee on which the authority are represented constitutes, has given rise to or is likely to or would give rise to …a contravention by the authority, by any committee, or sub-committee of the authority, by any person holding any office or employment under the authority or by any such joint committee of any enactment or rule of law or of any code of practice made or approved by or under any enactment…to prepare a report to the authority with respect to that proposal, decision or omission.”
Which basically says if the council breaks the law, or are considering an action that would break the law, the Monitoring Officer is required to give a report that gives full details of that unlawfullness.
My second complaint is that this report has not been written. I believe a failure to write this report, which is a required public duty, is by itself an unlawful act.
A collection of legal interpretations that are such a load of old bollocks it’s hard to put into words
The council openly acknowledge that that they were spying on SEND parents at para 29 of their fact finding report.
And again at para 41
Having acknowledged parents were spied on, the report concludes with some bizarre legal analysis from council legal boss, “L’ill” Tim O’Gara explaining why nothing unlawful occurred. On the subject of the Regulation of Investigation Powers Act, which regulates how, why and when state actors can spy on us, he says:
A rather odd conclusion as the relevant legislation on directed surveillance makes no mention of ‘publicly available information’ being exempt as O’Gara seems to think:
Considering that O’Gara’s report acknowledges that the information on SEND parents was obtained on two occasions for what looks like a ‘specific investigation’ in a ‘manner likely to result in the obtaining of private information’ (eg. the identity of anonymous Twitter users and wedding photos), it’s hard to understand how this wasn’t directed surveillance as defined in RIPA.
RIPA authorisation would have meant that rather than providing a useless (and unrecorded) briefing to obtain permission for their dodgy investigation from clueless moron Education Director, Alison “Pervy” Hurley, the managers undertaking the investigation would have had to have obtained formal written advice and authority before undertaking any spying activities. To most normal people, a sensible course of action.
However, any authorisation would have had to come from a magistrate, who would be unlikely to authorise an investigation of parents because they were criticising some thin-skinned local authority managers and their shit service. This is on the simple basis that slagging off the council is not a crime and councils can only spy on people where there’s a reasonable belief that they are breaking the law.
O’Gara reaches similarly offbeat conclusions about data protection and the relevant GDPR legislation designed to protect our personal data from government and corporate snoopers and data thieves. In simple terms, the information council bosses accessed, processed and shared was undoubtedly personal data subject to GDPR legislation.
The council, therefore requires the consent of the owners of this data to process it. Something they clearly did not have. If they don’t have consent, then the council is required to have another lawful ‘reason for processing’ this personal data.
However, here’s O’Gara’s interpretation of GDPR issues raised his by council’s spying activities:
Where’s the council’s ‘lawful reason for processing’ SEND parents personal data in all this guff? Nowhere in three long-winded paragraphs of red herrings about ‘Data Protection Impact Assessments’ (DPIA) and ‘systematic monitoring’.
There’s no dispute that it was thicko Education Director Alison Hurley’s choice whether or not to do a DPIA, which is basically a risk assessment. Something you might expect a director-level public sector manager to undertake as a matter of course before implementing any new and, potentially, highly controversial policy.
But what’s this got to do with GDPR compliance? Are the council saying they complied with GDPR because they didn’t produce a risk assessment that’s not required? Ironically, a document that might have informed Hurley how to comply with GDPR? But which might have also left a rather unhelpful paper trail directly back to her?
Similarly, the surveillance Hurley authorised may or may not be ‘systematic’ and therefore subject to further regulation but where’s the answer to the crucial GDPR issue: what was Hurley’s ‘lawful reason for processing’ SEND parents’ personal data from the internet without their consent?
This central issue is avoided in O’Gara’s report, which tells ua that their spying activities were done
at the request of Contact and BPCF to substantiate the concerns being raised by BCC about the activity of the [parent carer] forum members;
Para 49, Fact-finding report – Use of social media by council staff re SEND Parent Carer Forum.
Are we being told that if the Bristol Parent Carer Forum requests personal information from the council on the parents it’s supposed to be representing then this exempts the council from the law? This is such a load of old bollocks it’s hard to put into words.
It’s further worth noting that an unnamed ‘Parent Participation Advisor’ from Contact, an allegedly independent national organisation supporting SEND parents, seemed to very enthusiastically encourage the council to spy on Bristol’s SEND parents. They told a council SEND snooper in an email extract at para 20:
I understand that some of the evidence may be subject to GDPR but I have been advised that anything that is posted publically [sic] is ok to share
Para 20, Fact-finding report – Use of social media by council staff re SEND Parent Carer Forum.
Did anyone at Bristol City Council bother to check if this legal opinion was accurate and check the legal credentials of whoever ‘advised’ this ‘Parent Participation Advisor’? Or was it just accepted by a ridiculously thick set of SEND managers and has this inaccurate claim then found its way into a formal council legal opinion, allegedly prepared by three lawyers?
This short, daft report signs off with just one recommendation:
Would it come as any surprise to learn that this is one great big fat lie too? Bristol City Council Children’s Services has a very detailed protocol called Use of Social Media Sites by Social Care and Safeguarding Staff on the internet in their Bristol Children’s Services Procedures Manual.
The relevant section would appear to be:
2.3 Covert/Overt Surveillance and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000
Viewing a service-user’s social media content without their specific consent is not necessarily, of itself, unlawful.
However, consideration must be given, in all cases, as to whether viewing the sites constitutes ‘directed surveillance’ under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (‘RIPA’) and so requires authorisation under that Act. This is a complex area.
Whilst the following general principles apply, each case must be treated on its own facts, and legal advice MUST be sought as necessary:
If the consent of the service-user is obtained, then no further authorisation would be required;
If consent is not obtained but no privacy settings are in operation to prevent viewing, then the material available on the sites can be regarded as ‘open source’, and so a single viewing would not constitute ‘directed surveillance’ under RIPA and no authorisation would be required under that Act;
However, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner (now superseded by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner) made clear his view that repeat viewing of sites by staff may constitute ‘directed surveillance’ and if done covertly (i.e. without the knowledge of that person) then this would be ‘covert surveillance’. This would require authorisation under the Act in the form of a warrant from a magistrate.* It is for the employer to ensure that any covert surveillance is properly authorised, recorded and, most importantly, legally justifiable.
So why has the Director of Education and her SEND managers completely ignored their own publicly available procedures? And why is the Head of Legal Services and his legal team pretending in a report to councillors that these procedures don’t exist and instead published the exact opposite as their legal view?
I think we should be told ...
*******A meeting of Bristol City Council’s People Scrutiny Commission will take place on Monday 12 September at 5.00pm for councillors to discuss this absurd report and next steps. People are encouraged to ask questions, make statements and, if possible, to attend and jeer at any spying director or manager scum in attendance (that’s if they have the balls to attend – look out for last minute sick notes). Details on asking questions and putting in statements are here under ‘Public Forum’.
Bristol City Council’s country bumpkin Monitoring Officer, Labour-supporting and Marvin-loving “L’ll” Tim O’Gara who, as far as we can tell, learned his local government law via some scam correspondence course based somewhere in Latvia (‘Easy obtaining of the degree from the world famous Oxbridge University’), has instructed councillors not to vote against the Reverend’s budget because they could end up in court! He’s joined in this fool’s errand of blatant political interference and bullying by council finance boss Denise “Disease” Murray.
In a letter, sent today, to all councillors regarding Tuesday’s budget meeting that the Reverend doesn’t have a majority to force through, L’il Tim and Disease also instruct democratically elected councillors on how they should vote:
“In practice, if councillors do not wish to support the Mayor’s budget then councillors should consider recording their lack of support by abstaining from the vote on those parts of the budget that they do not support.
“THE CONSEQUENCES OF VOTING AGAINST THE BUDGET (rather than abstaining) COULD BE LEGAL. FINANCIAL AND REPUTATIONAL” [our emphasis]
They then sign-off their piece of anti-democratic legalistic mumbo-jumbo with a charming threat:
“If it can be demonstrated that councillors acted deliberately to prevent the council from setting a balanced budget, then this could be seen as a breach of the Member Code of Conduct.”
Are this pair of unelected jackarses threatening to discipline our elected councillors who don’t vote the way they’ve told them to?
I think we should be told. Preferably in their resignation letters to the people of Bristol first thing Monday.
“L’il” Tim O’Gara, the city council’s weak and woolly Monitoring Officer, is at it again.
Richly rewarded to be a tough and independent voice at the council, keeping the Mayor, councillors and staff in line and acting according to the council’s constitution and policies, “L’il” Tim has consistently failed at this. Instead he has carved out a reputation for doing whatever the mayor tells him, regardless of propriety or the law.
Among his many handiworks has been turning a blind eye to the Reverend’s lack of any apparent open sale or procurement process as our valuable land at Arena Island is handed over to pension fund L&G. They will develop the land at a considerable profit to themselves while lumbering us with a 40 year rental charge for an already obsolete office block they intend to build.
O’Gara was also behind hiding vital Bristol Energy documents, such as dodgy business plans and realistic accounts, from the councillors and the public. A dumb practice only helpful to the Reverend, keen to hide his fundamental incompetence, now condemned by the council’s auditors. “L’il” Tim’s work almost certainly helped the shambolic energy reseller run up a £43m debt for council taxpayers.
Now we learn “L’il” Tim has turned his attention to next week’s motion before the Full Council to have a referendum on whether we should continue to have a mayor. And “L’il” Tim has helpfully allowed the Reverend to table an amendment to the Lib Dem’s motion stating that the alternative to the Mayor should be a leader and Cabinet system not the committee system requested by the Lib Dems.
This is odd because last year, when the Lib Dems put in a similar motion, proposing a leader and cabinet system, the Greens tabled an amendment to change it to a committee system. Only for O’Gara to pop up and dismiss the Greens stating it was a “wrecking amendment”. So what’s changed now? Apart from it’s the Reverend (who O’Gara’s shit scared of) tabling this latest and similar amendment?
Why is some weak and useless tosspot of a Monitoring Officer allowed to be entirely partisan and fuck about with our city’s democracy like this? With his limited legal skills, mental weakness and poor character, might “L’il” Tim be better suited to provincial house conveyancing practice rather than to the political cut and thrust of a core city local authority where the bullies and thugs tend to congregate at the top?
“L’il!” Tim is a wimp and a coward and he now really needs to fuck off before he does any more damage to our city.
With the election safely over and the Reverend Rees restored to his rickety pulpit held together with gaffer tape and the prayers of his best friends, including Bristol City Council Chief Exec Mike “Billie Jean” Jackson and Monitoring Officer, “L’il” Tim O’Gara, it’s time to get down to the serious business of governing Bristol.
And the first item on the agenda? Is, er, getting a couple of gullible council managers to sue the Reverend’s chief political critics, Councillor Gary “Meathead” Hopkins and Councillor Richard “Bunter” Eddy for defamation!
It’s been alleged in the Nazi Post that our dear old friend, the council’s useless pillock of a Director of Workforce, John “Bedwetter” Walsh, and his latest dimwitted sidekick, Facilties boss David Martin “Bore-mann”, have “served [Bunter and Meathead] with a defamation claim demanding a retraction, public apology and damages”!
This appears to be in relation to comments Meathead and Bunter made at at a Human Resources Committee Meeting on February 18 and reported in The BRISTOLIANat the time.
In response to ludicrous claims from Walsh and Martin that cleaning and security staff that they had formally consulted were entirely in favour of being outsourced to Bristol Waste from Bristol City Council, Bunter replied that the bosses’ comments were “worthy of Dr Goebbels and the Third Reich.”
Meathead also frankly responded to Walsh and Martin’s unevidenced claims with “I don’t believe a word of what’s been presented to us by the management side.”
Get on standby, then, for the trial of century as two idiot council managers attempt to sue two councillors for making fair comment on the basis of the evidence presented to them.
On the one hand there was ZERO evidence presented by Walsh and Martin to back their claims. On the other there were TWO trade union written statements that the staff involved were deeply unhappy with the management outsourcing proposals.