Thursday 06th August 2020,
North Yorks Enquirer

ARGOS: The Fatal Omissions

ARGOS: The Fatal Omissions

  • an “In My View” report by NIGEL WARD, explaining why the ARGOS project may be ripe for Judicial Review.

~~~~~

Last Wednesday 8th July 2020, two-and-a-half hours into the farcical Zoom charade which masqueraded as a meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Board, the ‘Leader’ who promised us “a new era of Openness and Transparency” delivered a ‘impassioned’ plea in predetermined support of  the Council taking out a forty-year loan of £22M to demolish the former ARGOS building and replace it with 200-odd student cubby-holes for the purpose of  “regenerating one of the most deprived areas in North Yorkshire”.

I reproduce that ‘kiss of the Blarney Stone’, replete with its “unprecedented times” clichée, beginning at 16:29:24 and ending at 16:34:22, to remind readers and elected members of the content:

“…talk of a bounceback faster than anticipated…”, said the ‘Leader’, speaking of the post-COVID-19 economy.

Except:

“The UK economy is doing even worse than we thought, and the prospects of a V-shaped recovery look bleak”.

And:

“UK economic bounceback in May far slower than anticipated”

LONDON — The British economy grew by far less than anticipated during May, dampening hopes that the recovery from what is set to be one of the country’s deepest recessions in centuries will be rapid.

The Office for National Statistics said Tuesday that the economy grew by 1.8% in May from the previous month after some easing of the lockdown, such as encouraging those in construction or manufacturing to return to work. The crucial retail sector was also buoyed by record online sales.

“However, with lockdown restrictions remaining in place, many other services remained in the doldrums, with a number of areas seeing further declines,” said Jonathan Athow, Deputy National Statistician for Economic Statistics.

The increase recorded during May was far lower than the 5% anticipated in financial markets and means the economy remains 24.5% smaller than it was in February, before the full impact of the coronavirus. In April alone, the economy shrank by a staggering 20.3%.

The following day, Thursday 9th July 2020, at 22:23:11, this same ‘Leader’ sent an email to all elected members (reproduced in its entirety first by Tim THORNE in his article “Scarborough Council To Be Abolished” on 10th July 2020, and again here, to remind readers and elected members of the content:

Download the PDF file Scarborough Council Abolished.

Certain parts of that email are especially noteworthy, since they indicate foreknowledge. And non-disclosure.

For example:

“Dear Councillor, 

In recent months . . .

and:

This week I was invited to a meeting with Simon Clarke MP, Minister of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government with all council leaders and chief executives across York and North Yorkshire. This was following on from his online speech earlier this week regarding the government’s desire to link Devolution deals with local government reorganisation.

At that meeting the Minister made clear that the government is giving serious consideration to change the structure of local authorities and align devolution to the implementation of new unitary council structures.” 

and: 

Whilst we expect a formal letter from the Minister in due course, we have been informed that government will be inviting us to submit a proposal for reorganisation by September. The area to be covered by the proposals are across both North Yorkshire County and the City of York, and government are open minded about receiving a single bid or multiple bids.

Thus, it is my opinion (and that of many others) that the ‘Leader’ and three of the Senior Officers (including two statutory – the s.151 Officer and ‘Acting CEO’, Mr Nick EDWARDS, and the Monitoring Officer, Mrs Lisa DIXON – plus Commercial Director Richard BRADLEY, the man who advised the former Leader to cast the Council’s 38 votes in favour of establishing the Yorkshire Coast BID then, having taken a seat on the Board, scarcely bothered to attend) wittingly withheld vital information from members of the Overview & Scrutiny Board, other elected members and the wider public – the vital information that an authority now within two years of almost certain abolition was apparently being finagled into upholding a Cabinet Decision to commit the authority and its rate-payers to a 40-year £22M loan from the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) – a Decision that the Monitoring Officer had previously stated was not necessary to bring back to Full Council because (and I quote):

“there is no anticipated change to either the Council’s budgetary or policy framework”.

Can it really be true that the abolition of our present local authority – on top of the COVID-19 pandemic and concomitant global economic collapse does not entail any “anticipated change to either the Council’s budgetary or policy framework”? I think not.

The government’s Public Accounts Committee sides with my view:

Download the PDF file FINANCE.

So which dunderhead walked us into this pratfall, popularly known as SIDDONS’ FOLLY?

And it gets worse. Those remarks towards the end of the submission by the ‘Leader’ (in support of the ARGOS project being about more than just revenue, about it being more about regeneration), were placed on the record to serve a subtle purpose other than swaying the OSB in favour of upholding the Cabinet Decision to proceed with the project.

In March 2020, the Government went out to consultation with the objective of making it mandatory for local authorities to satisfy the PWLB that loans are not intended to finance investment assets primarily for yield (revenue). Of course, the ‘Leader’ omitted to mention that this consultation ends on 31st July 2020. Thereafter, it may only be a matter of a very short time indeed before the ARGOS loan would become possible only by over-inflating the regeneration aspects of the project.

So I have a question: Did the intervention by the ‘Leader’ at the OSB meeting amount to a classic example of lying by omission? I think we should be told . . .

Amusingly, what the ‘Leader’ was blissfully unaware of until after the OSB meeting was a timely ‘leak’, courtesy of a loose-lipped elected member from another Council, who had blown what was agreed and intended to be a synchronised announcement throughout the North Yorkshire and City 0f York Councils.

Given the foregoing, I find it difficult not to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that the real reason that neither the ‘Leader’ (a man I would not trust to ‘lead’ me to the bathroom if I had a bladder full to bursting) nor his Senior Officers (who I would trust even less) have ever found the gumption to meet me is that they feel unable to look me in the eye; they are afraid I will know a phoney when I meet one.

Public servants who quake in dread of confronting the public whom they are elected or appointed to serve are a disgrace to the service.

Fortunately, moves are at long last afoot to bring them to account.

After 60 years in the music industry, I have long felt convinced that I had encountered the nethermost depths of cant and hypocrisy; I felt that I was well-qualified to detect palterers, dissemblers, blatherskites, mountebanks and toe-rags.

Events in local government have done nothing to suggest that my judgement is awry; I believe I know a phoney when I see one – and our local government is awash with them.

La festa è finita, Signor Trasparenza. La Toscana chiama.

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