Friday 18th August 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

SBC: The Leader, The Cabinet & The Futurist

SBC: The Leader, The Cabinet & The Futurist

  • an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, offering an overview of the SBC Cabinet – a tale with a sting in it’s tail.

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Throughout the year of 2016, there have been a total of seven meetings of Full Council – January, February, May (two meetings, one of which was ceremonial), July, September and November – at Scarborough Borough Council. On average, the Full Council has been convened every two months and Scarborough Town Hall will not welcome all fifty Councillors to another meeting of Full Council again in 2016.

In the same period, the Cabinet will have met eleven times. There will be a meeting of the Cabinet on 13th December 2016 at 10:00am. So the Leader, Councillor Derek BASTIMAN, and the seven Portfolio Holders who comprise his Cabinet will be exercising their powers at least once more before the year is out.

Largely unknown to the overwhelming majority of Borough electors, there is a very real sense in which the eight Cabinet  Members are the only elected members who retain any control over the Council. A glance at the Council’s calendar for the rest of the year will suffice to illustrate the fact that, apart from the bare bones business of Planning, Licensing, Auditing and Standards, Committee meetings no longer feature as major events on the governance landscape.

The abolition of all of the Overview & Scrutiny Committees – now replaced by a single Overview & Scrutiny Board – has ensured that four-fifths of the Councillors are excluded from almost everything but the mundane regulatory functions; the strategic impetus is now the exclusive domain of the Leader and his Cabinet.

Yet few residents are clear about who the Portfolio Holders are – much less, their respective areas of responsibility or (and this is the source of deepest concern) their qualifications, experience and general competency for their respective rôles.

In presenting the Council’s own ‘job descriptions’ for these positions, I am inviting readers to consider whether or not an invalided gardener, a car-hop, a money-lender, a taxi-driver, a good-for-nothing, a holiday-camp operator, a dunce  and a scrap dealer’s spouse (in no particular order) can really lay claim to the skills necessary to the successful management of a corporate business whose summary accounts reveal a complexity far beyond the comprehension of all but the most qualified and experienced captains of industry. How many of them can truly assert that their comprehension of the beast is anywhere near complete?

Download the PDF file SBC Accounts 2015/16.

Setting aside the fact that the bullet-points in the Council’s ‘job descriptions’ are largely gobbledegook. What does the Leader, Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] know – or care – about (for example) the  “Implementation of the power to promote the economic, social and environmental well being of the Borough”?), can it really be possible that such demanding positions can be adequately filled by part-timers volunteering their labours for a relative pittance in Allowances?

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  • The Basic Allowance is presently £4,001.28 per annum. NB: as both a Cabinet Portfolio Holder and the Conservative Group Leader, Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.] is in receipt of £10,003.20 per annum.
  • It should be noted that several of the Cabinet Portfolio Holders also sit as members of North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC), where they hold entirely separate responsibilities and, accordingly, are remunerated quite separately. At NYCC, the Basic Allowance is £8,994.00.

To set these Allowances in some sort of perspective, SBC are currently advertising the position of Quay Attendant / Relief Watchkeeper at Whitby Harbour, at a salary of £15,507 – £16,191 per annum – roughly the same remuneration as the Leader, Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.], but with a significantly lesser burden of responsibilities, as set out in the job description, which reads:

  • “To maintain established standards of cleanliness along the piers, wharves and pontoons of the Harbour and to undertake a labouring function by assisting others in the performance of their duties to assist with general maintenance work in Harbour areas.”

How can the public expect a Leader with a competency equal to the following schedule of responsibilities – comparable in scale and complexity to those of a ruling monarch in historical times – for the price of a cleaner/labourer? Why would anyone want to do it – beyond an inestimable fortification of one’s self-esteem? If one likes that sort of thing . . .

The Portfolio responsibilities are available on the SBC website here.

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Of course, the Leader – Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] – is supported by a pyramid of specialised professionals headed by SBC’s Chief Executive Officer and Head of Paid Service, Mr Jim DILLON (salary £106,400 p.a.); Director of Finance and s.151 Officer, Mr Nick EDWARDS (salary £74,900 p.a.); Director of Legal & Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Lisa DIXON (salary £74,900 p.a.); and the relatively new kid on the block, Director of Whatever Else, Mr Trevor WATSON (also on a salary £74,900 p.a.). And, of course, the pyramid spreads out beneath these worthies in all directions, all the way down to the Relief Watchkeeper at Whitby Harbour.

Councillor Derek BASTIMAN’s card is marked at every turn by staff whose career progress is dependent on their compliance with the demands of the Directors. Some say the tail is wagging the dog.

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How gratifying it is, by the way, to see that, following my article of 23rd October 2016, the Directors’ Registers of Interest are now back on the SBC website. Alas, the questions are nowhere near as penetrating as those for Councillors. No mention, for example, of properties . . .

Let us now proceed to the ‘job descriptions’ of the other seven Portfolio Holders, starting with Finance, Procurement & Legal:

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We may struggle to believe that Councillor Helen MALLORY [Con.] includes, amongst her range of accomplishments, high qualifications in the areas of financial services, corporate law and estate management. Of course, she has the support of Mrs Lisa DIXON and Nick EDWARDS (both of whom have yet to respond to appeals for transparency in regard to the MARRIOTT allegations). It is to be hoped that she learns more from them than is divulged to the wider public.

Moving now to Public Health & Housing:

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On the face of it, Councillor Bill CHATT [Ind.] appears to have to the widest-ranging remit of all.  Fortunately, Bill has many years of experience in the DIY retail industry on which to draw insights into such diverse disciplines as care services for the elderly, food safety and hygiene, animal care and the disposal of human remains – which is not to suggest that he knows where the bodies are buried.

Next, Strategic Planning & Transformation:

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That Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.] should have been designated Leader of the Conservative Group is, in itself, something of a mystery. As regards to his qualifications/experience in such areas as strategic planning, service transformation, property maintenance and project management – well, just talk to any Whitby resident in the West Cliff and Streonshalh wards.

Let us move on to Democracy and Safer & Stronger Communities:

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Councillor Sandra TURNER [Con.] has twice in the past resigned her seat on the Council, ascribing her decision to the need to prioritise her own affairs. To be fair to Sandra, she was ‘parachuted in’ to the Cabinet at very short notice (following the Leader’s extraordinary decision summarily to dismiss arguably the best-qualified member, Councillor Michelle DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF [Ind.Con.], following her nervous breakdown) and can therefore be excused if she is not really up-to-speed.

We then arrive at the Portfolio for which there is no statutory authorisation – Tourism & Culture:

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Councillor Andrew JENKINSON [Con.] is another who appears hopelessly over-faced by the sheer enormity of his Portfolio – which reads like a dialogue between Billy BUTLIN and Lord COE, starting in the Rotunda and concluding in the public toilets that SBC are busily hiving off to the lowest bidder. He is another who has ignored public interest questions regarding his knowledge of the Ben MARRIOTT fraud and corruption allegations.

Councillor Andrew JENKINSON [Con.] formerly held the Portfolio for Human Resources, ICT & Performance Management during the internal investigation that Judge FORREST characterised as a “whitewash”, which has now been passed to more experienced hands:

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In Councillor Andy BACKHOUSE [Con.], we encounter something of a dark horse. His present Portfolio includes Human Resources – the department that has come under the harshest criticism since the Employment Tribunal victory of Ben MARRIOTT, the whistleblower whose allegations have been characterised by Judge FORREST, in his Judgment, as the subject of a “whitewash”. He has therefore inherited a poisoned chalice. That apart, his lifetime knowledge of Scarborough and his acknowledged business acumen and communications skills set him apart from the rest of the Cabinet.

Finally, we come to the Portfolio for Project Leadership, Harbours, Coast & Flood Protection:

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Councillor Mike COCKERILL [Ind.] has been a frequent subject of investigation by the North Yorks Enquirer. Always in the midst of controversy, he is noted for his predilection for terminating any inquiring dialogue with words to the effect of “This conversation is now closed” whenever pressed for answers that elude him – as many do.

Hopefully the foregoing will have provided readers with a general picture of the eight Scarborough Borough Councillors in whose hands most (but not all) of the important decision-making now rests.

One such decision is now at the forefront of interest – The Futurist Theatre.

Will it go or will it stay?

The Sting

The popular movement to “SAVE OUR FUTURIST” has succeeded, in recent weeks, in raising public awareness and indignation to new heights – and, in doing so, has raised hopes and expectations.

This wave of enthusiasm has been tempered by reports from members of the public who have engaged (or say that they have engaged) in a degree of dialogue with certain elected members. The phrase most commonly reported has been “done deal” – here is one of many examples.

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Councillor David JEFFELS [Con.], who has in the past been known to have strayed from the path of strict confidentiality, is another to have been reported to have used the phrase “done deal”.

Should it transpire, at any stage, that it really was a “done deal”, how could such an outcome have been engineered, when we have (supposedly) a democratic forum comprising fifty elected members, each of whom owes a duty of representation to her/his electors that is intended to stand above the temptations of bribery and corruption?

In a letter to a member of the public dated 7th November 2016, SBC Director of Finance and s.151 Officer Nick EDWARDS re-capped the sequence of key governance events thus far on the long road to the demolition of The Futurist, the most recent being the meeting of Full Council held on 26th February 2016.

The graphic below shows Nick EDWARDS letter on the left of the screen; on the right, the only four references to The Futurist in the Minutes of that meeting – plus the all-important vote – as recorded under Item 9. BUDGET/COUNCIL TAX 2016/17 (ii) Council’s Financial Strategy 2016-2026.

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Tucked away in the latter part of a lengthy and complex Motion tabled by Councillor Helen MALLORY [Con.], the £4M was budgetted for the demolition of The Futurist sailed through with barely a murmur, save for the general reservations expressed by Councillor Janet JEFFERSON [Ind.], Councillor Sam CROSS [Ukip] and Councillor Steve SIDDONS [Lab.] – despite the fact that “further detail and final figures were not yet available”.

And that took care of Full Council. Sucker punched.

Even allowing for the extensive delegated powers of the Portfolio Holders, how could there be a “done deal” without the predetermination and witting collusion (both of which are streng Verboten – strictly forbidden) of the entire Cabinet?

This linked document, from which I quote the salient Item – 1.4 – which addresses the delegated powers of the Portfolio Holders, states:

SCHEDULE 2: INDIVIDUAL CABINET MEMBER DELEGATION SCHEME

1.4 Subject to retaining at all times the power to make any decision personally, the Leader delegates to each Individual Cabinet Member the power to take any action or make any decision within the Individual Cabinet Member’s portfolio which would otherwise fall within the functions of Cabinet described under Article 7 where either Special Urgency under Section 4.3, rule 16, or Urgency under Section 4.4, rule 4 applies.

Let us consider that very first phrase:

  • “Subject to retaining at all times the power to make any decision personally, the Leader delegates to each Individual Cabinet Member…”

The powers delegated to the Portfolio Holders are contingent upon the will of the Leader, Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.], who retains at all times “the power to make any decision personally.

It is difficult to interpret these words other than as confirmation that the Leader has the fate of The Futurist Theatre in the palm of his hand. I suspect his intention is to crush it. Why? Cui bono?

And what of the ‘outer forty’ Councillors? What will they think of this – they who have accepted the votes and the trust of their electors to represent the will of the people, democratically, at all times?

Do they feel no duty to challenge?

Be clear, Councillors; I challenge the system not because I loathe it, but because I hate to see it abused and betrayed. Were I not to challenge it, I would lose all self-respect.

With so much power vested in the hands of one man – a man with a reputation for taking an autocratic approach to the execution of his intentions – it is extremely difficult to be optimistic about the prospects of the will of the people prevailing. More is the pity.

An unprecedented level of public outcry seems the only card left to play.

Then again, Opposition Leader Councillor Steve SIDDONS [Lab.] seems content to trust Leader Councillor Derek BASTIMAN’s private undertaking to bring full details of The Futurist Theatre proposal before all Councillors ahead of any decision-making.

Whatever that means . . .

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