Friday 24th March 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

HDC: The Final Whistle

HDC: The Final Whistle

  • an “In My View “ article by NIGEL WARD, up-dating readers on the bunker days of Hambleton District Council’s ‘Top Five’ corporate directors as they flounder through their attempts to keep the lid on a “whistle-blower’s” shattering allegations against one of their own.

~~~~~

In recent weeks, I have been pursuing a ‘difficult’ correspondence with various Hambleton District Council Senior Officers on topics ranging from the almost totally dysfunctional Exelby, Leeming & Newton Parish Council (ELN), its Councillors, former Councillors and Parish Clerk, to some very questionable financial decisions in relation to the extraordinary salary increases of the ‘Top Five’ Directors of HDC, as well as the patently false statements of HDC Council Leader Councillor Mark ROBSON.

The incompetence of some of the Officers, even on such a mundane level as providing the proper support documentation, has led to a series of formal Corporate Complaints – all exhaustively documented, with no room for discussion regarding the actions and omissions that have taken place.

Though the correspondence has, as I say, been ‘difficult’, we have managed to make some sort of tortuous progress.

But matters have taken a turn for the worse since I found myself being passed around from one Officer to another when I requested information as to how the Council would wish me to proceed in regard to “whistle-blower” allegations from Council members and/or staff.

As reported in a recent article (“HDC Whistle-Blower: Who Dunnit? Who Hid It? Own up!”– 29th Sept. 2014), I set out the general nature of the “whistle-blower” allegations and the substance of the emails that I had dispatched to the ‘Top Five’, asking each of them to provide an “honest, transparent and exhaustive account of what actually took place” – with a press-deadline of 5:00pm on Wednesday 1st October 2014.

For some reason, the ‘Top Five’ elected to ignore the opportunity to ‘make a clean breast of things’.

Ever mindful of the demanding routines that the ‘Top Five’ pursue for their collective salaries totalling almost £½-million per annum , I decided to leave it until the morning of Thursday 2nd October 2014 before publishing a follow-up article (“HDC: Bang For Your Buck”), covering the general state of the Council’s financial status and concluding with the reproduction of my email to the ‘Top Five’, noting that Dr Justin IVES, Mick JEWITT and Dave GOODWIN had provided read-receipts – but not CEO Phil MORTON or Corporate Director Martyn RICHARDS (who, readers may remember, refused in an FOIA response to identify those HDC Councillors who accepted IT/Broadband Allowances from both HDC and NYCC – ‘double-dippers’ – but was subsequently forced by the Information Commissioner to do so. Secrecy runs deep with these fellows. Martyn RICHARDS, by the way, is rumoured to be heading for a golden handshake award. A suitable case for study).

I had been hoping that one or more of the ‘Top Five’ would be able to offer a statement to the effect either;

  • (1) that the allegations are untrue and without a scintilla of foundation,

or;

  • (2) that the allegations are to be investigated and, if found to be valid, appropriate action will be taken against the offending parties.

No such statement has been forthcoming.

Readers will no doubt be wondering why. Wherein lies the difficulty?

If the “whistle-blower” is levelling false allegations (though I am satisfied that such is not the case), there should be no difficulty in providing a robust and categorical denial. There is no indignity in that.

It may be that the ‘Top Five’ are reluctant to publish such any kind of denial for fear of evidence coming to light that shows that the allegations are in fact true. That would leave each and every one of them out in the open, stark naked in a despicable and career-threatening lie. Heads would have to roll. Quite rightly.

The other available course of action would be to concede that there may indeed be truth in the allegations and, if validated by a transparent investigation, a commitment must be made to instigate the appropriate action. The sack.

Accountability is a main pillar of democracy – isn’t that right? One way or another, there has to be a full and impartial investigation.

So what about the culprits stepping up to the plate to spare their colleagues further distress? It would not ameliorate their guilt, though it might salvage some soupçon of integrity.

But perhaps it is the case that HDC is fundamentally unwilling to set a precedent in the matter of accountability . . .

I have offered, on a number of occasions in recent weeks, to meet privately with Senior Officers with a view to co-operating in an attempt to find resolutions to the many irrefutable ELN transgressions (some of which constitute criminal offences under the Localism Act 2011), as well as a number of misleading statements (and strokes of sheer incompetence) on the part of HDC Officers.

My invitations have been disregarded. Not declined; simply ignored.

It is noteworthy, however, that some Officers, having had their shortcomings pointed out, have found the good grace to apologise to me.

I say ‘noteworthy’, because, within half an hour of publication of the “HDC: Bang For Your Buck” article requesting either a robust denial or a determination to investigate the “whistle-blower” allegations, Dr Justin IVES emailed me to inform me that I have suddenly become persona non grata with the ‘Top Five’, on the grounds that I have been ‘deemed’ to have behaved unacceptably, under the terms of the Council’s Unreasonable Complainant Behaviour Policy.

Rattled? Like a pebble in a tin can.

I would surmise that he found my article cause for embarrassment. I expect he intended to ‘close me down’. Perhaps he has never learned the lesson from what happened when Scarborough Borough Council Director of Legal & Democratic Services Lisa DIXON attempted to close me down; the BBC ‘Inside Out’ program proved her a liar – and she never did close me down.

‘Deemed’ by whom, exactly, has not been transparently revealed – only “the Council”, though when the Council may have met and resolved to proceed with such action has not been disclosed. I am sure that the  Council never did make such a resolution. Dr Justin IVES is simply putting words in the Council’s mouth. Perhaps the Councillors are perfectly comfortable with that. Well, most of them. Some feel that the “whistle-blower” allegations must be investigated.

On 02/10/2014 11:36, Dr Justin Ives wrote:

Dear Nigel

Having reviewed the allegations and complaints that you have made recently the Council deem your behaviour to be unacceptable under its Unreasonable Complainant Behaviour Policy.  The Council will therefore not be communicating with you in future on any matter.

Yours sincerely

Justin Ives

The plain truth is that Dr Justin IVES has been tasked with the problem of how to stop the “whistle-blower” allegations being aired, and (heaven forbid!) proven, in the public domain.

But Dr Justin IVES would appear to be incapable of discerning that the most serious allegations are not even mine; they emanate from within his own Council.

In his 30-minute panic attack, he has shown his true colours as born-leader of the “Shoot the Messenger” Brigade.

And it does not seem to have occurred to Dr Justin IVES that, given the appalling disingenuousness of various written statements of some of the ‘Top Five’, and their repeated demonstrations of incompetence (some of which resulted in Senior Officers being obliged to apologise to me – horror of horrors!) with regard to their apparent inability to conform to the Council’s own adopted Policies and Procedures, he was constitutionally required to provide me with a copy of the Unreasonable Complainant Behaviour Policy, for my reference.

But he did not.

And when I pressed him to do so (which, wisely, he did), I soon discovered why he had withheld it.

A brief review of the Unreasonable Complainant Behaviour Policy sufficed to ascertain that Dr Justin IVES, in ‘deeming’ me blah-blah-blah-blah, was himself in wild breach of the terms of that very Policy.

I am reminded of one of those mediaeval maps of some dark, foreboding hinterland, with those ominous-sounding, strangely-spelled “Ye Olde Worlde” labels.

 HERE_BE_CRETYNS

But there is more.

Having initially accepted me as the Council-accredited Agent for two members of the public who are also pursuing meticulously documented Formal Complaints, Deputy Chief Exec Dr Justin IVES has now arbitrarily withdrawn that status from me without reference to the wishes of the complainants. Unsurprisingly, he did not provide them with a copy of the Policy document, either – as the Policy itself requires him to do.

“Here Be Cretyns”, indeed.

But there is yet more.

Dr Justin IVES has personally prohibited me from setting foot on Council premises – that is to say, property in the public ownership; a public place – as defined in law. Needless to say, he has no more power to prohibit me from a public place than he has to prohibit me from breathing – though I am sure he aspires to being able to achieve both.

Make no mistake, the many-titled petty despot has taken leave of his corporate senses.

On 02/10/2014 14:32, Dr Justin Ives wrote:

Dear Nigel                                          

http://democracy.hambleton.gov.uk/documents/s1460/240914%20Item%204.pdf

Please find attached a link to the Councils [sic] unreasonable complainant behaviour policy which you have requested.  I must also inform you that this decision precludes you from attending Council premises.

Yours sincerely

Justin Ives

Does he seriously think that he can ban me from Council off-street car parks, public toilets, recycling-facilities, leisure-centres, cemeteries, crematoria and so on? Arrogance and ignorance – a heady mix.

Has Dr Justin IVES never heard of human rights?

And there is yet another monumental gaffe to be attributed to the (re)doubtable Dr Justin IVES. He is in breach of the Council’s Whistle-blowing Policy (at least, as it has been provided to me by Monitoring Officer Gary NELSON as an attachment to his email of 30th September 2014 – ” Please find attached a copy of the Council’s whistle-blowing policy as requested” , but is in fact entitled “HAMBLETON DISTRICT COUNCIL ANTI-FRAUD AND CORRUPTION POLICY” – Approved December 2011, Revised April 2014 and signed off by the s.151 Officer – you guessed; Dr Justin IVES, under another of his precious titles, which states:

  • 7.6 Any necessary investigation will be conducted irrespective of a person’s relationship with the Council, position, status or length of service, but subject to any legislative requirements.

Absolutely unequivocal: “Irrespective of a person’s realtionship with the Council”. (Can any of these buffoons get anything right?). That, Dr Justin IVES will try to say, will be be dependent upon whether or not he “deems” it to be a “necessary investigation”.

  • (“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”Lewis Carroll).

But be very clear about this; Dr Justin IVES has stepped wide over the line. He has breached a bucketful of the Council’s Procedures as laid down in the Constitution and in law. He has confirmed that he acted unilaterally. He cannot pass the ‘buck’. The ‘buck’ stops with him. So to speak. He is toast.

So the investigation into the “whistle-blower” allegations will be going ahead, whether he of the many job titles wishes so, or otherwise – in the latter case,  Dr Justin IVES will be acting contrary to the Hambleton District Council Constitution – ultra vires – and I shall not let that sin pass.

But returning to the “whistle-blower” allegations, as I am sure readers are eager to do . . .

I would contend that I have been more than fair in giving the ‘Top Five’ every possible opportunity to lay their cards on the table. Reviewing the present ‘stand-off’, the state of play is:

  • I offered to meet with HDC Senior Officers to discuss matters privately.
  • They did not accept.
  • I offered to co-operate with an internal investigation.
  • They did not accept.
  • I offered an opportunity for HDC Senior Officers to provide ‘right of reply’ statements.
  • They did not accept.

But, in a spirit of co-operation, I will now make one more offer to the ‘Top Five’, and I sincerely hope that Council Leader Councillor Mark ROBSON will use such influence and integrity as he can muster to encourage the ‘Top Five’ to accept my offer. He certainly should.

Meanwhile, I will here present – albeit in heavily redacted form (almost as heavily redacted as SBC Borough Solicitor David KITSON’s absurd FOIA response to my colleague Tim THORNE – see “SBC Spook Censors Mundane Planning Doc” – 24th July 2103) – my first inkling that a very serious conduct infraction may have taken place at HDC – one patently worthy of investigation.

  • I have redacted the name and personal details of the “whistle-blower”.
  • I have redacted separate allegations against another HDC top-ranker (later, okay?).
  • I have redacted the name of the accused.
  • I have retained the specifics of the matter upon which the ‘Top Five’ have refused to comment.

Here, on this occasion with those drastic redactions, is the Personal Message (via FaceBook ) that opened my dialogue with the “whistle-blower” – a significant figure within Hambleton District Council and therefore an unimpeachable witness:

REDACTION_01

Of course, I have redacted far more than I have disclosed. That much is true. But even in this brief excerpt there are a number of elements of the highest significance. More of the text will be revealed in a future article. For the moment, these are the points to note:

  • an allegation against a named Officer (though I have for the moment redacted the name)
  • an allegation against an unnamed (but identifiable) Personal Assistant
  • an allegation of collusion on the part of peers and colleagues to ‘bury’ the incident
  • the possibility of an Officer having used his position to progress an unwanted sexual advance

It would seem to me that, irrespective of whether or not the fine legal minds of Hambleton District Council prove equal to confabulating a ‘spin’ on an ‘angle’ on an ‘interpretation’ regarding an ‘intention’ or a ‘meaning’ of a form of words such as would slip surreptitiously between the letter and spirit of the Council’s Employment Terms or Officers’ Code of Conduct, there is something radically wrong at HDC if it can only go into ‘lock-down mode’ – as it so visibly has – rather than investigate a profound breach of the public trust and clean up its own backyard – and not under cover of darkness.

It is high time that it did so, without the need for any further encouragement from me. But I am ready to do my duty – in the public interest.

It cannot be argued that it is contrary to the public interest to disclose information regarding utterly inappropriate conduct in the workplace on the part of Officers who, whilst on duty and on the public payroll, engage in wildly inappropriate conduct – or those who collude to conceal it.

I would close by reminding readers that I have no interest in pursuing corrupt public servants who are no longer active in public life. Once the trash is in the trash-can, it is time to forget it, and move on . . .

So the final whistle is about to be blown; we are now into injury time.

Let us give them a little longer in which to provide a frank and honest statement. The complacent culture of impunity amongst the ‘Top Five’ has gone now. For one of them, it is all over. It will be every man for himself.

I will leave you with another quote from HDC’s “Whistle-blower Policy”:

  • 1.2 The public is entitled to expect the Council to conduct its affairs with integrity, honesty and openness and demand the highest standards of conduct from those working for it.

Damn right we are. So proceed with your work, Justin. You are a paid public servant. You are not paid nearly £100K per annum to cover-up  for some cock-happy joker caught red-handed, shagging in the office.
GRAND_JOKER

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