- an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, offering a compromise solution to the perhaps inevitable impasse over the entirely predictable conclusions of the STANYON Report.
Following the long-awaited publication of Mr Peter STANYON’s Report on his investigation into the ballot process underlying the establishment of the Yorkshire Coast Business Improvement District (YCBID), I expressed my intention to publish an in-depth analysis of the Report. This would now appear to be a futile and redundant endeavour. It is not worth the trouble to pull the Report apart because the ‘Conclusions’ of Mr STANYON’s Report, however understated, are absolutely explicit in the only relevant point: the ballot was blatantly unfair.
Even a cursory reading of the ‘Conclusions’ (the ‘Summary’ of which is reproduced at the foot of this article) suffices to establish that the conduct of the ballot by the SBC Electoral Services Team, led by the then Returning Officer Mr Jim DILLON, was inadequately informed (some might say “deliberately misinformed”) and woefully inept – and, in my view, this ineptitude is particularly unacceptable because, as Mr STANYON correctly observes (at 4.70 in his report), it was open to exploitation by the DBID proposer – guided by Mr Mo ASWAT (pictured above) and his Mosaic Partnership:
“One of the pecularities of these ballots is that the DBID proposer is focussed on generating support for the proposal”.
And it is also unacceptable that the SBC Finance Director Mr Nick EDWARDS has taken it upon himself to conceal the identities of those of his colleagues (himself included) who were responsible for this amateurish ineptitude, by employing the customary local authority technique of redacting names, on the spurious grounds that names of public servants constitute ‘personal information’. I say ‘spurious’ because the Information Commissioner has ruled, on many occasions, that those in public employment must stand accountable for their actions (or inactions).
So before addressing the consequences of Mr STANYON’s ‘Conclusions’, here follows my best shot at identifying those responsible (with apologies in advance for any error on my part):
Before pointing a way forward, I would direct readers’ (and Councillors’) attention to the following element of Mr EDWARDS’ Recommendations to the Audit Committee:
Mr EDWARDS is asking the Audit Committee to recognise that Mr STANYON’s investigation was incapable of producing any meaningful change in the present circumstances; the ballot was a shambles, but it is too late to do anything about it, so no-one need carry the can. In short, the Report has been nothing more than a costly £10K exercise in ‘shop-window-dressing’ – a snow job. The irony does not escape me that when I suggested that SBC Officers are incompetent, I was deemed “vexatious” – yet Mr STANYON has been well paid for arriving at the same conclusion. Tee hee.
And I would also direct readers’ (and Councillors’) attention to the following element of Mr EDWARDS’ Recommendations to Cabinet:
Since the man ultimately responsible for the consummate failure of the Council’s Electoral Services Team was none other than the former Returning Officer (and Chief Exec and Head of Paid Service, retired), Mr James McGarvey DILLON, who is safely beyond the Council’s (or the present CEO’s) jurisdiction, there can be no meaningful attribution of blame and no-one will face censure of any kind – (“A big boy did it and ran away”). More ‘shop-window-dressing’.
I am disappointed to note that Mr STANYON (at 4.36 in his Report) has suggested that the ineptitude of the Electoral Services Team can be overlooked because it was distracted from its duties, having focussed its attentions on the unscheduled UK Parliamentary Elections of 8th June 2017 – for which it received £177,479, Mr DILLON’s portion of which (I am told) was £25K (on top of his inflated CEO salary). Is that really an acceptable excuse for having so utterly failed BID voters? Was democracy, in their case, somehow less important?
The Road to Redemption
It seems to me that the only prospect of Scarborough Borough Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Yorkshire Coast BID Ltd, Mr Clive ROWE-EVANS, Ms Kerry CARRUTHERS, the Mosaic Partnership and, in particular, Mr Mo ASWAT emerging from this disgraceful episode with even a patina of integrity is for them mutually to agree to a re-ballot of qualifying business proprietors (excluding Council-owned hereditaments) within a clearly-defined tourism sector, in a clearly-defined geographical area – and, this time, in a manner that all can agree is FAIR.
Is that really to much to ask?
On past form, one can only expect that it is. The tail is likely to wag the dog again.
Now prove me wrong, Councillors. Surely, SBC Leader Councillor Steve SIDDONS [Lab.] – that doyen of democracy – will join me in insisting upon ‘openness and transparency’ and, above all, FAIRNESS.
For ease of reference, the Scarborough Borough Council Audit Committee comprises:
- Mr St John Harris (Secretary)
- Councillor Alex Bailey (Vice-Chair) [Lab.]
- Councillor G Andrew Backhouse (Chairman) [Ind.]
- Councillor David Chance [Con.]
- Councillor Rich Maw [Lab.]
- Councillor Mrs Heather Phillips [Con.]
- Councillor Jim Grieve [Ind.]
But with two Tories and two Labour members cancelling one another out, it will surely come down to the two Independents – one of whom (Councillor BACKHOUSE) fell out with the Tories not so long ago – and one ‘newbie’ (Councillor GRIEVE), who has already departed from his election promises. A three/three split will put the matter in the hands of the casting vote of the Chair – Councillor BACKHOUSE – whose employer is liable to the levy. No conflict there – honest, guv. In short, the Audit Committee looks like a dog all tooready to be wagged by the tail – which doubtless explains why Councillor Sam CROSS was summarily removed from the Chairship.
Business proprietors may wish to lobby members of the Audit Committee. Good luck with that.
So even though Mr STANYON has made it quite clear that the ballot was a parody of democracy, Mr ASWAT’s smirk is likely to remain intact.
Mr STANYON’s ‘Summary’ of his ‘Conclusions’
The likelihood of Mr STANYON’s advice (at 6.7) gaining any traction are amply illustrated by the following emailfrom Hero SUMNER (spokesperson for the Yorkshire Coast Levy Payers Association) to the CEO and Chair of Yorkshire Coast BID Ltd:
The businesses have about as much use for YCBID as a fish has for roller-skates.