Thursday 14th December 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

Local Government Ethics

March 31, 2013 Letters

A Letter to the Editor from Mike WARD (writing as a member of the public) on the subject of ethical conduct in our local authorities.

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Dear Mr Editor,

The duty of any Councillor and Council Officer is to listen to residents and act with openness, honesty, integrity and transparency at all times.

They are there to serve us.

Broadband Allowances and the “Me Too!”  Voucher Scheme are well-reported issues which have highlighted serious concerns.

Lessons hopefully have been learnt and measures put in place to prevent the outcomes we have seen from ever happening again.

However, what has occurred does not excuse anyone who was in any way connected. Poor administration, ill-conceived projects, inadequate rules/regulations/allowances, the manipulation of the “Me Too!” voucher scheme, and similar morally indefensible actions cannot be condoned.

Council Officers & Councillors have to think outside the box and try to foresee problems that might occur, especially where there may be a chance of personal gain, in or outside any Council.

They all should be well acqainted with Nolan’s Seven Priciples of Public Life

  • selfleness,
  • integrity,
  • objectivity,
  • accountability,
  • openness,
  • honesty,
  • leadship.

There are many conscientious, hard-working and well-meaning Officers and Councillors, but some just simply fail to think how their actions might be perceived.

Some, with hindsight, might well feel their actions have been foolish or mis-judged – to say the very least.

Simple answers to simple questions from the outset. Why, if nothing is wrong, is there such a defensive culture running through our Councils ?

Communication has to improve – a point I first made 6 years ago; but little has changed.

Residents have a right to know, and be party to, all decisions taken. It is our money that is sometimes being wasted. Is is never wrong to admit mistakes, provided appropriate actions are taken going forward.

Broadband

We know there was nothing in law preventing the double claim from both District and the Council Councils; nothing to prevent a husband and wife claiming the same allowance although living in the same house.

It was left entirely to the individual Councillor’s own conscience.

Will anyone of those who ‘double-dipped’ please try to justify their actions they took, morally?

I know when this story first broke, there was at least one of those involved who did want to make a payment to a charity in lieu of what they agreed was morally wrong.

At least one wanted to pay back what he had received, but personal circumstances prevented that course of action. In the end, and as a Group, they decided to brazen it out – in my mind a wrong decision. If only one Councillor had stood up to be counted.

Why couldn’t those involved simply admit it was morally indefensible and apologise. If they had – or could maybe? – it would be time to move on.

Respect could be regained, even at this late stage.

“Me Too!”

From their own admissions, NYCC realise this well-intentioned scheme was not thought through and was poorly administered.

There were early concerns expressed by some schools but appropriate action was not taken.

The whole system was open to abuse. I do wonder why a cap was not put on the number of vouchers issued or limits on expenditure.

Why didn’t local Officers, Councillors, etc, see the problem and react ?

Again, maybe nothing illegal in taking the poorly-thought-through Voucher system for everything it had, but this was from the public purse – our money.

Better use could have been made of monies paid to the very large claimants.

Education in Whitby is suffering from lack of investment. Much more could and should have been done with that money.

Would some claimants even now consider opening their venue to school groups free of charge to show some understanding of the issue ?

Mileage Claims 

A few of these have recently quite rightly been questioned. Why can’t this question be answered – quickly?

Surely all expense forms are examined and approved by the Finance Dept., though in the main I believe it is down to ‘self certification’.

If a journey from home to a Council Meeting is 10 miles then I would expect a claim of 20 miles for the round trip. If a claim was put in for 40 miles, surely an Officer, if this matter was raised with him/her, would want to know why – and the claimant would want to explain. The person in question would surely want to put the matter straight.

If not, why not?

A simple explanation should be given quickly to a very simple question.

When Councils close ranks then I’m afraid some will think the worst. It is up Officers and Councillors to change this viewpoint. We have a right to know.

Yours, etc.

Mike

Mike Ward. Dunsley. 31st march, 2013.

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