Monday 26th June 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

County Council: Collusion, Cover-Ups and Coincidences?

Seven months after it was first reported to Scarborough Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council, it seems the Authorities in question are trying to put the saga of the double-dipping, dual-hatted Councillors to bed.

  • Councillors have refused to pay back tax payers money – for something that most householders already provide for themselves.
  • Councillors have received in excess of five times the cost of Broadband from both Authorities.
  • Collusion is now suspected because many of the formal responses by Councillors are so remarkably similar that it can only be assumed these responses were prepared and written by an Officer of the Authority’s Legal Team, possibly the same Legal Team Officer that was supposedly investigating the complaint against the Councillors.
  • Councillors on the SBC Standards Committee attempt to sweep the Double-Dipping Saga under the carpet by selectively ignoring the evidence provided to them.
  • Only one member of the SBC Standards Committee spoke out against the poor accountability in the current Standards System and calls on the Councillors involved to pay back the money.

For those that haven’t been following the story, a number of Council members elected to both Authorities have been receiving monies from both Authorities for Internet & Broadband Expenses. Some have received in excess of £750 per annum or £60+ a month for something that actually costs most of us considerably less.

There are other articles which flesh it out further here, here and here.

It appears that Lisa Dixon, SBC’s Monitoring Officer, has leaked the result of the joint Authority investigation to the Scarborough News, which is contrary to SBC Standards complaints best practice. The SN article itself is replete with errors, which were likely printed due to the usual misinformation provided by SBC. Some of that misinformation printed in the SEN is quoted below:

“The committee concluded that the £8,994 basic allowance from the county council does not define specific elements of expenditure, such as broadband or IT”

The guidance regarding Councillor allowances quoted below is from the NYCC website, which completely contradicts the conclusion of the SBC Standards Committee. This information was provided as part of the complaint.

2.0 BASIC  AND SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY ALLOWANCES

2.1 These annual allowances to each elected Member are paid on a monthly basis. The basic allowance reflects the expectation that Members make available a broadband connection so that they can receive information from the County Council and others by email, and more generally make use of the IT facilities provided to them.”

On 14th October 2011, Scarborough Borough Council’s own ‘Independent Remuneration Panel’ met to discuss SBC’s Internet Allowance as part of their normal meeting schedule. The subject had arisen because of a complaint I had previously made about the Council Leader, Cllr. Tom Fox and his wife both claiming the maximum SBC Internet Allowance for an address they share. The Independent Remuneration Panel discussed and resolved that the Council agree that further action should be taken with regard to the Internet Allowance. Again, this information was provided as part of the complaint:

Members claim only for broadband expenses necessarily incurred rather than a specific allowance.

“Members who represent both North Yorkshire and Scarborough Borough Council likewise should limit claims to actual expenses incurred.”

Lisa Dixon, SBC’s Monitoring Officer, concludes in the SN:

In line with recommendations made by legal officers from both authorities, the Standards Committee concluded that the 10 members were fully entitled in accordance with the law and government guidance to receive both the basic allowance made available by North Yorkshire County Council and the internet and ICT allowance made available by the borough council and therefore did not act dishonestly in accepting both allowances.

So, with all that damning evidence collated as part of the investigation, what did the Standards Committee, a body composed entirely of other Councillors, decide? They decided their fellow Council Members had done nothing to bring the Council into disrepute.

One member of the Standards Committee, Cllr Colin Challen, who didn’t wholly agree with the conclusion reached spoke out about the toothless system that leaves Council Members to decide their own fate without any independent scrutiny. He believes that this shouldn’t be the end of the matter, that the Councillors in question should be held accountable under the ‘Seven Principles in Public Life’ that were established by the Nolan Committee and suggested that the Council Members should pay back the money.

Councillor Challen also writes about the statements provided to the Investigating Officers of both Authorities by the Councillors. Cllr Challen declares that a County Council Official appears to have written the statements, which were then passed to the Investigating Officers.

The Council Members statements are reproduced below, along with a synopsis of what each Councillor was paid and what meetings they attended at NYCC where the allowance was the subject of the Council Members responsibilities.

Statements were not provided for Cllrs Brian Simpson nor John Blackburn.

Cllr Brian SIMPSON

Cllr Simpson received around £700-750 per annum from both Authorities for 6 years for a service that has cost him much, much less.

Cllr Simpson was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 17th Dec 2008 where it was discussed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Cllr Simpson was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 16th Dec 2009 where it was agreed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Cllr John BLACKBURN

Cllr Blackburn received around £500-550 per annum from both Authorities for 6 years for a service that has cost him much, much less.

Cllr Blackburn was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 17th Dec 2008 where it was discussed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Cllr Blackburn was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 16th Dec 2009 where it was agreed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Cllr William CHATT

“Dear Miss Proud.

 I am referring to the letter dated 24 July 2(JI2.Heading. LOCAL STANDARDS COMMITTEE INVESTIGATION. Refno; 20] 2/22393.

 I am writing to let you know that I deny that I have breached the Code of Conduct or local protocol which is the subject of the allegation.

 The following reason is why I deny the charge.

 The County CounciI’s Members Allowances Scheme pays a single Basic Allowance for my role as a Member of the County Council. Whilst there is an expectation linked to that allowance that I make available a broadband connection. there is no specific element included in that allowance for the cost of broadband so I do not claim, as such, an amount for broadband from the County Council.

 The County Council also has a scheme to make available equipment to Members to carry out their role. l have a blackberry issued by county council

And 1 pc and printer issued by Scarborough

I look forward to meeting with you to help you with your investigation.

Kind Regards

William Chatt”

You will notice that Cllr Chatt doesn’t deny he has received in excess of £750 per annum from both Authorities for 2 years for a service that has cost him much, much less.

Cllr Chatt was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 16th Dec 2009 where it was agreed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Cllr David JEFFELS

“Dear Miss Proud

Re Investigation 2012/22393

Following receipt of notification of the complaint lodged by Mr Nigel Ward, I write to formally deny that I have breached the Code of Conduct or local protocol which is the subject of the allegation.

The North Yorkshire County Council’s Members’ Allowance Scheme pays a single Basic Allowance for my role as a member of NYCC. Whilst there is an expectation linked to that allowance that I make available a broadband connection, there is no specific element included in that allowance for the cost of broadband so I do not claim, as such, an amount for broadband from the County Council. NYCC also has a scheme to make available equipment to members to carry out their role. I have equipment made available by the Borough Council, but do not have any equipment from NYCC. I am able to access emails sent by NYCC on my SBC computer.

Please contact me if I can be of further assistance. D

Yours sincerely

David Jeffels (Coun)”

You will notice that Cllr Jeffels doesn’t deny he has received around £550-700 per annum from both Authorities for 6 years for a service that has cost him much, much less.

Cllr Jeffels was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 17th Dec 2008 where it was discussed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Cllr Janet JEFFERSON

“Dear Miss Proud

REFERENCE: LOCAL STANDARDS COMMITTEE REFERENCE NUMBER 2012/22393

I refer to your letter dated 24″‘JuIy 2012, received around the 2G”` July 2012 the contents of which I note and would reply as follows:-

I deny, to the best of my knowledge , that I have breached the Code of Conduct or Local Protocol which is the subject of the allegation. The following reasons are why I deny the charge.

The County Counci|’s Members Allowance Scheme pays a single Basic Allowance for my role as a Member of the North Yorkshire County Council. Whilst there is an expectation linked to that allowance that I make available a broadband connection, there is no specilic element Included in that allowance for the cost of broadband so I do not claim, as such, an amount for broadband from the North Yorkshire County Council. The North Yorkshire County Council also has a scheme which makes available equipment to members to carry out their role. Scarborough Borough Council also, at present, has a scheme which makes available equipment to Members to carry out their role. I own my own equipment i.e. computer, printer etc. and therefore do not take advantage of any equipment from either North Yorkshire County Council or Scarborough Borough Council. The Broadband facility within my property was provided and installed by myself some years ago and we pay a varying sum to Plusnet Plc by direct debit each month to cover the cost (based on usage etc)

I have not as yet received an IPB lpad from Scarborough Borough Council as I am awaiting authorisation that I can purchase my own |P3 from Jennings of Scarborough.

I look forward to meeting with you to help with the investigation.

Kind regards ,

JANETJEFFERSON”

You will notice that Cllr Jefferson doesn’t deny she has received in excess of £750 per annum from both Authorities for 2 years for a service that has cost her much, much less.

Cllr Joe PLANT

“Dear Miss K Proud.

 I am referring to the letter dated 24 July 2012.

LOCAL STANDARDS COMMITTEE INVESTIGATION. ““ Ref no; 2012/22393.

I am writing to let you know that I deny that I have breached the Code of Conduct or local protocol which is the subject of the allegation.

The following reason is why I deny the charge.

The County Council‘s Members Allowances Scheme pays a single Basic Allowance for my role as a Member ofthe County Council. Whilst there is an expectation linked to that allowance that I make available a broadband connection, there is no specific element included in that allowance for the cost of broadband so I do not claim, as such, an amount for broadband from the County Council. The County Council also has a scheme to make available equipment to Members to carry out their role.

Because I already have equipment made available by the Borough Council and a paid allowance for broadband I have not taken advantage of the County Council scheme and do not have any equipment from the County Council.

I have enclosed communication/email with a Mr Hofschroer dated 10 April. 2012 and a reply from myself dated 11 April 2012. This is as above with the following added.

I could have chosen to take advantage of the County Council Scheme, but it would have meant, another laptop/printer and a new telephone line.

I made the decision not to, as I did not think it was acceptable to the tax payer to do so.

I look forward to meeting with you to help you with your investigation and to deny any breach.

Kind Regards.

Cllr Joe Plant”

You will notice that Cllr Plant doesn’t deny he has received in excess of £750 per annum from both Authorities for 2 years for a service that has cost him much, much less.

Cllr Plant was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 16th Dec 2009 where it was agreed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Cllr Andrew BACKHOUSE

“Dear Miss K Proud,

In response to the letter from Lisa Dixon, post dated 24th July 2012 and received on the 27th of July 2012, in relation to the above Local Standards Committee Investigation Reference no: 2012/22393,  I wish to respond to the 4 specific raised as follows :-

1/ I deny the breach of the Code of Conduct or local protocol which is the subject of the allegation,

2/ The documents that I wish the investigator to take into account in any investigation of the allegation are copies of my expense claims forms as submitted by myself to Scarborough Borough Council during the period that I have been an elected member. This is the period front May 2003 to the present day. Expense claims forms submitted by myself during this period equate to NIL.

3/ I can think of no person, at the time of my response, that I would wish the investigating officer to interview in the course of this investigation.

4/ The information which l consider the investigating officer should seek from any person or organisation in connection with this allegation is the following

a./ A full catalogue of all my remittance slips received from Scarborough Borough Council since May 2003 until the present date. Available from Payroll at Scarborough Borough Council.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Andrew Backhouse”

You will notice that Cllr Backhouse doesn’t deny he has received around £700-750 per annum from both Authorities for 6 years for a service that has cost him much, much less.

Cllr Backhouse was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 17th Dec 2008 where it was discussed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Cllr Backhouse was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 16th Dec 2009 where it was agreed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Cllr Mike COCKERILL

“Dear Miss Proud.

I refer to the letter dated 24 July 2012 in regard to the above matter. l write to formally deny that I have knowingly breached the Code of Conduct or local protocol as alleged. Since I was elected to the County Council in May 2009, I automatically receive an allowance under The County Council’s Members Allowances Scheme in much the same way as I receive an automatic allowance from Scarborough Borough Council to which I was first elected in May 2007.

l have a laptop from SBC, l also have a printer from SBC. I could have similar equipment from NYCCC but chose not to claim it as I would have been unable to justify this experice from th public purse. I do have a remote hard drive from NYCC for backing up data.

The only financial claim I submit on a monthly basis to NYC is in regard to travel expenses incurred. Occasionally I obtain a supply of envelopes, stamps and paper from NYCC.

From SBC I occasionally obtain paper and submit monthly claims for travel and associated expenses, until earlier this year I received the broadband allowance. I am not aware of any pertinent documents save those provided by NYCC and SBC as part of the normal induction process for new councillors.

Similarly, I consider that it is only NYCC and SBC officers that can provide information together with accused colleagues.

I look forward to discussing this issue at the earliest possible moment.

Regards

Mike Cockerill”

You will notice that Cllr Cockerill doesn’t deny he has received in excess of £750 per annum from both Authorities for 2 years for a service that has cost him much, much less.

Cllr Cockerill was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 16th Dec 2009 where it was agreed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Cllr Penny MARSDEN

“Dear Miss Proud

Ref:- Local Standards Committee Investigation. ICT Allowance.

I have always been aware that Scarborough Borough Council made available an allowance for Broadband. we also had it printed clearly on our expence’s statements.

Allegation of so called “Double dipping”.

From being elected to the NYCC No officer as either informed me or made me aware, nor have I had written notice of a ICT allowance being a part of the overall expences paid by N.Y.C.C.

Hence I wish to completely refute the allegation made against me.

Yours Faithfully

Cllr. Penny Marsden”

You will notice that Cllr Marsden doesn’t deny she has received around £600-750 per annum from both Authorities for 2 years for a service that has cost her much, much less.

Cllr Marsden was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 16th Dec 2009 where it was agreed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Cllr Peter POPPLE

“Dear Lisa,

Attn: Miss K. Proud

Investigator.

With reference to your letter of the 24th July, in reply to the points asked.

1. I deny that I have breached the Code of Conduct or local protocol

2. Pay Advices from both SBC and NYCC will show that until recently.Members Pay advice from SBC did itemise that internet payment had been made whilst NYCC members pay advice did not. I understand NYCC ceased indicating this payment in 2009. members who were elected that year were unaware any payment for Broadband was included in their allowances. I was elected in 2009. therefore I did not know of this payment.

3. Carole Dunn Legal Officer NYCC to verify the fact that members elected in 2009 were not informed that payment for Broadband was included in the Members allowance.

4. l do not have any IT equipment issued by NYCC, doing all my work on the

Laptop and Printer issued by SBC which enables me to handle all correspondence from both Councils.

As a member of the Standards Committee since its inception I would question the motives and history of the complainant . under the new code vexatious complaints can now be filtered out.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Peter Popple,

Leader Independent Group Scarborough Borough Council”

You will notice that Cllr Popple doesn’t deny he has received around £750 per annum from both Authorities for 2 years for a service that has cost him much, much less.

Cllr Popple was present at the North Yorkshire County Council Meeting on 16th Dec 2009 where it was agreed that the ICT element be subsumed into the Basic Allowance.

Article first posted to Real Whitby on October 2 2012.

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