Five SBC Labour Members Compromised
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, highlighting a probable breach of the Localism Act 2011, in relation to ARGOS, the (mini) Town Square and a ‘Top Secret’ purchase.
On Wednesday 8th July 2020, one year after the Council carried a motion to demolish the former ARGOS building, Councillor Subash SHARMA [Lab.] attended a meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Board in his capacity as Substitute for Councillor Joanne MAW [Lab.] who had (presumably) given apologies for her absence.
The minutes of the meeting confirm that Councillor SHARMA quite correctly, in my view, declared a personal interest in Agenda Item 4:
1. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
Councillor Sharma declared a personal interest in agenda item 4, Call-In – Cabinet decision – Scarborough Town Centre regeneration (student accommodation scheme) (reference 20/114), as he was known to Paul Cross, who had a freehold above the newsagents.
All Councillors (if not all readers) should be aware that failure to declare an interest is prohibited by s.30 – s.34 of the Localism Act 2011, so Councillor SHARMA was on the right side of the law.
The “freehold above the newsagents” (at 1, St Helen’s Square), as the Land Registry confirms, was indeed in the ownership of Mr Paul David CROSS:
Mr Paul David CROSS may be well-known to readers and residents – just as he is well-known to members of the Scarborough & Whitby Labour Party – having served as a Labour Councillor at SBC during the previous administration, from May 2015 to May 2019.
Thus, in any Council meetings addressing ARGOS or the adjacent premises at 1 St Helen’s Square – whether Full Council or any of the Committees – Labour Councillors in attendance have been under the same legal obligation as Councillor SHARMA to declare their acquaintance with Mr CROSS, so as not to fall foul of the Localism Act.
Unfortunately, since Councillor SHARMA’s declaration on 8th July 2020, there have been a number of meetings addressing either (i) the proposal for the ‘regeneration’ of the former ARGOS building or (ii) the development of a so-called ‘Town Square’ on the Newborough end of St Helen’s Square. I have located no other declarations by Labour members.
In particular, and of exceptional significance, there was the meeting of the Planning & Development Committee on Thursday 9th December 2021, at which Planning Applications for both the ARGOS demolition/re-build and the development of the (mini) ‘Town Square’ were addressed.
The Scarborough Borough Council YouTube Channel covered the meeting. At 02m 48s, readers may confirm for themselvers that only Councillor John CASEY [Ind.] and Councillor Paul RILEY [Ind.] made declarations. Councillor Bill CHATT raised the possibility of Predetermination by some members.
Thus, I can state with confidence that the four Labour members in attendance, including the Chair, did NOT declare an acquaintance with Mr Paul David CROSS:
- Councillor Subash SHARMA (Chair)
- Councillor Stuart CAMPBELL
- Councillor Rich MAW
- Councillor Theresa NORTON
Councillor SHARMA cannot plead ignorance; as shown above, he did declare his acquaintance with Mr Paul David CROSS at the 8th July 2020 meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Board, even though Councillor SHARMA did not serve concurrenly with (then) Councillor Paul CROSS. By his own admission, they were certainly well-acquainted, as members of the same Group, and that is why Councillor SHARMA was legally required to declare that relationship at the Planning & Development Committee meeting on 9th December 2021, as he had done previously (and correctly) at the 8th July 2020 meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Board.
I should, perhaps, have been shocked by my next discovery. I was not.
Readers and Councillors may not be aware that, on Friday 17th December 2021, a Leader’s Urgent Decision was recorded:
(I need hardly add that the Director’s report referred to above is not to be found on the Council’s website – even in redacted form).
As we see, Councillor SIDDONS has not declared his personal acquaintance with the owner of the property.
I cannot confirm information passed to me from within the Town Hall to the effect that this latest ‘Top Secret’ property acquisition – of an undisclosed property, for an undisclosed sum – is one of two properties of interest in the immeditate vicinity of Newborough.
On the ‘highly likely’ list, I would include (i) the former ARGOS building (which the Council is contracted to purchase, contingent upon the rejection of the Planning Application on 9th December 2021), and (ii) 1 St. Helen’s Square (which the Council proposes to demolish in order to create space for its (mini) ‘Town Square’ proposal (for which Planning consent was granted on 9th December 2021). It could, of course, be the purchase of some other property (presumably in this country).
At the top of this article, we saw that Councillor Subash SHARMA correctly declared an interest when taking part in a discussion about the ARGOS ‘regeneration’ project – his personal acquaintance with Mr Paul David CROSS.
Allow me to emphasise the following extract from the Leader’s Urgent Decision of 17th December 2021, reproduced above:
None. Nothing to declare.
The Cabinet member in question is, of course, the Leader – Councillor Steve SIDDONS. He declared no interests.
But Councillor SIDDONS served alongside (then) Councillor (now) Mr Paul David CROSS, from 2015-2019.
It is my view that, as in the cases of Councillors Subash SHARMA, Rich MAW, Theresa NORTON and Stuart CAMPBELL (at the Planning & Development meeting on 9th December 2021), the Leader had a legal duty to declare his close acquaintance with Mr Paul David CROSS, just as Councillor SHARMA did at the meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Board on 8th July 2020.
Councillor SIDDONS must surely be aware that failure to do so runs the risk of the public perception being that he has authorised the expenditure of public funds to secretly purchase a property, at an undisclosed price, from his old mucker, Mr Paul David CROSS.
It is precisely for the purposes of “openness and transparency” – and to permit scrutiny of the Council’s financial activities by press and public – that the Localism Act (and the Councillors’ Code of Conduct) prohibits non-disclosure (failure to declare). One might correctly state that it is anti-corruption legislation.
This is not to say that a corrupt act has taken place; merely that the law enacted to prevent corruption appears to have been flouted and these appearances merit a diligent investigation.
In my view, such situations should never arise. The Council employs a Monitoring Officer (Mrs Lisa DIXON – salary: £75K p.a.), amongst whose duties, as one of the Council’s three Statutory Officers, is the regulation of members’ interests. Part of that duty is to report breaches of the relevant sections of the Localism Act 2011 to the Police.
I do not engage with Mrs DIXON. Head of Paid Service and CEO Mr Mike GREENE is aware of that. Mr GREENE does not engage with me.
So I have provided the documentary and video evidence set out above to members of the Opposition Groups, in the hope that they will abide by Article 7 of the NOLAN Principles:
“. . . and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.”
Over to you, Councillors.