N Yorks Council CEO under renewed pressure
- – an ‘In My View’ article by Nigel Ward
Talking to a ‘tame’ Councillor last week, I discovered that there are still some people who see nothing wrong with ‘double-dipping’ – the name given to the process by which Councillors accept Allowances from two different Councils, or double up on their mileage reports, etc.
I suggested the following analogy. To my surprise, it sufficed to convince the Councillor that ‘double-dipping’ really is shameless profiteering from the public purse. See what you think.
When I was a child, I received ‘pocket-money’ from my parents. I say ‘pocket-money’ becuase my posh friends who attended public school always received much more than I did, and they called their pocket-money their ‘allowance’.
I cannot remember, after all these years, how much pocket-money I received each Saturday morning throughout my childhood, but I do remember that, at one time, it was 10/- (ten shillings) per week.
Sometimes, it was my father who handed me the 10/- note; sometimes my mother.
This much I can tell you with absolute certainty.
Had I ever accepted the 10/- note from my mother, my father would have had plenty to say to me if he had unknowingly offered me a 10/- note, too, and I had had the gall to accept it. He would have said, “No more pocket-money for the next two weeks!” – and thus I would gave forfeited 10/- for the following Saturday (repaying my over-payment), and 10/- the Saturday after that, by why of a ‘fine’ for the dishonesty implicit in my omission to declare that I had already received my 10/- pocket-money.
Yet that is exactly what Councillors all over North Yorkshire have been doing for years – keeping quiet and keeping the money.
Call me old-fashioned, but for me that is obviously wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG! – and we all knew that as seven-year-olds.
I do not want to be represented by Councillors whose moral standards are less evolved than those of any seven-year-old, do you?
So I have written again to North Yorkshire County Council Chief Executive Officer and Head of Paid Service Richard FLINTON, in the hope of helping him to grasp what any seven-year-old knows very well.
‘Double-dipping’, in all its devious forms – Broadband, mileage, stamps/postage and whatever other fraudulent tricks they employ – is just plain wrong.
It must cease.
—– Original Message —–
To: Richard FLINTON firstname.lastname@example.org
Cc: Multiple recipients
Sent: Monday, February 04, 2013 9:20 AM
Subject: *** COMPLAINT NON-RESPONSIVENESS ***
Mr Richard FLINTON – Chief Exec – NYCC
I note that you continue to remain non-responsive to me on a number of very serious issues.
Your indecision is in no way acceptable.
There now arises yet another issue; I refer you to the text of an email to me from your Senior Lawyer (Governance) Moira BEIGHTON, dated and timed at 14:43 on Thursday 31st January 2013. It concerns a complaint against County Councillor John BLACKBURN. For your convenience of reference, I reproduce Moira BEIGHTON’s text here:
I note that this complaint is now being pursued by an anonymous complainant through yourself. Carole Dunn, Monitoring Officer, will be assessing the complaint with the Independent Person on 7 February 2013 in accordance with the Council’s procedure for dealing with allegations of breach of the Code of Conduct. If the complainant has any further information which she/he considers to be relevant to the complaint, it is important that we receive it by 6 February.
Moira Beighton Senior Lawyer (Governance)
It must be self-evident to the simplest soul that it is absolutely unacceptable – given that I have received neither acknowledgement nor response from you on the matter of my complaint against Carole DUNN in respect of highly inappropriate actions in relation to previous complaints – that the complaint against County Councillor John BLACKBURN should, in any circumstances, fall under Carole DUNN’s purview.
The complaint was raised by a member of the public who asked me to pursue the matter, on his/her behalf, for fear of reprisals or retribution being exacted by other members of the Conservative Party.
I reproduce the witness statement of the (first) complainant here, for your convenience of reference:
The following is true to the best of my knowledge, and ability to recall events.
In the months leading up to the County Council elections of 2009, there were a number of meetings and sessions organised for the candidates.
Some of these involved meeting, and interacting with current Councillors for them to chat to us about what to expect, give advice and allow us to ask questions.
One one occasion, whilst we were in the conservative club (the room was the front bar, upstairs), John Blackburn was talking to us, after we’d met and had some sort of discussion about strategies for getting out and campaigning and leaflet dropping.
Posters for the candidates were decided at this point, and we also talked about a forthcoming trip to County Hall for the new candidates. There would be a free luncheon buffet provided for us. I can’t remember if this was paid for by SWCA or by County Hall itself.
John Blackburn at one point was stood before the group talking about what to expect as a Councillor once we were elected.
I remember being quite bored during this meeting, because Cllr Blackburn isn’t the greatest of orators, and my attention waned a little. I did try hard to pay attention, however. I recall he talked about people’s concerns about expences incurred, and he mentioned that things like expenditure incurred whilst conducting Council Business could be claimed back. Things like stationary were provided, there was an allowance for a number of things, like mileage. One of these, I seem to recall he called a “postage allowance”. Whereby a set number of stamps were provided by County Hall on a regular basis. He did say that he didn’t use all of these every time, but he made sure he claimed them anyway, because they could come in useful at a later date. He used the example that they could be used to send out christmas cards to constituents, for sending out election materials, or for writing to constituents later in the year. He justified hoarding the stamps by saying that if he went over one month, by writing to people, then he could just use up some of the ones already saved. He said something about it could mean the difference in helping to “keep the other buggers out” at election time, which I presume meant Labour Candidates.
I remember being surprised that he would say such things, being a Conservative I thought he would have wanted to reduce costs at County Hall as much as possible and certainly was all for open and democratic choices. I didn’t get chance to raise a question about this, because the day was rather busy with dealing with Candidate information, trying to remember what was needed to be done for my electioneering, and so on. I also had several discussions with other candidates about what their plans were for how they would canvas their areas, and this distracted me from asking Cllr Blackburn about this issue.
Signed [name redacted]
I have, of course, interviewed the complainant. Were I in any doubt as to the veracity of the above statement, I hope you know that I would hardly be such a fool as to lend it my support. It must be self-evident to the simplest soul that others were present during the incident described above. I have been requested to withhold further statements until such time as anonymous complainants are satisfied that the matter is not to form the next installment in a series of ‘cover-ups’.
Why have I not been provided with the County Councillor BLACKBURN’s defence statement? Or is that a work-in-progress, prepared with the assitance/collusion of Carole DUNN or one of her staff, as in the now infamous ‘double-dipping’ case? I require clear responses to these questions.
In consideration of the foregoing, you will (I trust) understand the necessity to have this complaint heard not by an Officer whose own integrity is questionable and awaits investigation in pursuance of the complaint that you have declined thus far to acknowledge, but by a genuinely independent body whose integrity is above reproach.
There has been a string of complaints deflected by the most questionable application of sophistry by Legal Officers at County Hall. This must cease.
Failure to diligently investigate bona fide complaints against elected members and paid public servants constitutes a clear breach of the public trust. The public at large relies implicitly on the integrity of elected members and paid public servants. In my view, there could be no greater dereliction of duty on your part than to allow these matters to remain inadequately addressed. Your clear duty is to actively strive for the highest possible standards of integrity amongst your members and staff.
You should also understand that, by ignoring issues of the gravest possible nature, you risk consigning members and staff to the ordeal of ‘trial by media’, which is clearly unsatisfactory – both to defendants and to complainants. A fair resolution based on all available evidential material is the only way forward. The responsibility for investigating complaints and garnering evidence does not rest with me; it rests with the Council – and you are the Chief Executive Officer and Head of Paid Service. The ‘buck’ stops with you.
You continue to disregard my repeated invitations to engage with me in a open and candid discussion of these matters.
Audits presently in progress indicate that there have been a large number of breaches of the Code of Conduct in respect of a variety of Allowances/Expenses, Register of Interests and Procurement matters, as well as other issues.
And I insist that your refusal to address the complaint against County Council Bill CHATT, whose blatantly abusive email to a member of the public is a matter not of allegation, but of fact, is reconsidered immediately. Your contention that County Councillor CHATT’s email, having been sent using an SBC email client, is of no concern to NYCC is, frankly, ludicrous.
The man is a County Councillor. He has breached the Code of Conduct. Yet you contend that that is of no consequence to you – (though you are paid from the public purse to assume responsibility for administering such matters) – for the sole reason that the abusive remarks did not bear the NYCC email server address? Please read that abusive email again now, and note the date:
From: Cllr.Bill Chatt [Cllr.Bill.Chatt@scarborough.gov.uk]
Sent: vendredi 21 septembre 2012 13:36 [Friday 21st September 2012]
To: Tim Hicks
Cc: Cllr.Tom Fox [and around fifty other Cc: recipients and an unknown number of possible Bc: recipients]
Subject: Re: Double dipping scandal. Former police officer alleges fraud
If you feel right is on your side,and I am sure I have not claimed twice for any thing why don’t you and your troll friends do it ,or that’s right the Internet is you only medium,and real life is something you will never understand, if you all worked to support the wonderfully town of whitby in what they do for the people then I am sure things would get better for everybody , I am being judged by standards and when that is over I will stand by their decision,
WILL YOU LOT
I do no wish you to make contact with myself anymore and I this continues I will consider this harassment and will have no option but to seek advice from the police ,
Please stay with your troll friends and leave decent people who work for the better of the borough alone,
I have waited to responded to somebody for a long time I would ask was it breast feeding that was the problem when you were a child?
Was it that you was the kid with glasses on at school who every body picked on,
Did you not have a Lego set
I hate bully’s who pick, and pick. in my life in my circles people don’t make life difficult because they can,life is hard enough with out Internet trolls
Private eye they never get it wrong they have never been sued for the wrong story
So what do you say shall we be adult about this or will you need breast feeding soon
A very pissed of and sick of it
Councillor William Chatt
Four months have now elapsed, yet you remain incapable of grasping this very odious nettle. And I know that you are aware that Scarborough Borough Council also remains non-responsive on this matter.
Please be clear that I would contend that such conduct is utterly unacceptable.
Is it, then, really your contention that personal insults against a member of the public (and his mother – of whom County Councillor CHATT has knows nothing), threats of Police action, as well as a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts (there was never any suggestion that the ‘double-dippier’ had “claimed” Broadband Allowances; merely received) is acceptable conduct on the part of a County Councillor? I would ask the same question of the many Cc: recipients of this email – and the public at large. Of course it is not acceptable; it is intolerable.
I repeat my invitation to you to engage with me in an amicable dialogue to discuss an equitable way forward.
And (of course) I continue to assert my right to publish my correspondence into the public domain, this email not excepted, at my own prerogative.
Yours, with very kind regards,
Richard FLINTON was internally promoted to the Chief Exec slot within NYCC, when former CEO John MARSDEN moved to Tyneside.
We are about to find out if Richard FLINTON was promoted beyond his ability.
Meanwhile, perhaps readers have read about former LibDem Cabinet Minister Chris HUHNE pleading guilty to conspiring to pervert the course of justice this morning.
- “The maximum sentence for conspiring to pervert the course of justice is life imprisonment, although it often carries a penalty of several months in jail.”
Some readers may consider the latter very lenient.
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