Wednesday 24th May 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

SBC: The MARRIOTT Gauntlet

SBC: The MARRIOTT Gauntlet

  • an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, up-dating readers on the SBC fraud and corruption scandal.

~~~~~

The “Whitewash” Continues

On Tuesday 13th December, I attended the Hull Employment Tribunal to witness the attempt of Scarborough Borough Council’s award-winning team of in-house solicitors, their Human Resources department and their barrister to knock the stuffing out of Ben MARRIOTT’s victory in his constructive dismissal claim.

Arriving a little late, I anticipated entering the hearing to find ‘The Gunfight at the OK Corral’ in gripping progress. After all, the stage had been set by three-and-a-half years of build-up in the North Yorks Enquirer, a couple of welcome (though belated) salvos from The Scarborough News and a scathing and contemptuous blast form Private Eye.

Thus far, the Council’s in-house legal department had emerged from the case looking as shifty as an out-house rat.

Yet SBC Directors were continuing to insist that Ben MARRIOTT was wrong about everything (which, presumably, is why they voluntarily paid him the £95K, rather than risk the Tribunal’s award), and that they are as pure as the driven snow.

Despite the humiliation of having his Council described by Judge Humphrey FORREST as the perpetrators of a “complete whitewash”, SBC Chief Exec and Head of Paid Service ‘Silent’ Jim DILLON felt it incumbent upon himself to comment(!), personally, to The Scarborough News.

Whether singled out for his evasiveness or his dilatoriness, we do not know, but Jim DILLON felt it necessary to defend himself (and his beleaguered legal department), thus:

 

That third paragraph – “Mr DILLON told The Scarborough News, etc”, was fighting talk:

 “The council has asked the tribunal to reconsider some elements of how the judgment was reached. Our request has been accepted and we await the outcome, which we expect to receive at the review hearing in December”.

Vaudeville springs to mind: “He’s dead but he won’t lie down”. Or Punch & Judy: “The show ain’t over till the fat lady signs (a statement of truth – that is actually true)”.

Director of Legal & Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer Mrs Lisa DIXON, in an email to Councillor Rob BARNETT [Lab.], went even further. Her message to him came across loud and clear: The Council was not for rolling over, she insisted. The lady was not for turning. She did not mention the words “complete whitewash”.

In the event, there was no sign at all of a court-room shoot-out taking place when I arrived to witness proceedings. Fortunately, the usher was helpfully able to explain that a settlement was being finalised in an adjacent conference room and the hearing itself would never take place. I asked if there were any reporting restrictions in place and the usher said, “None”.

In a brief conversation with Ben MARRIOTT, who left the conference room to update me, I learned that neither Mrs Lisa DIXON, nor any of her ‘award-winning’ legal team, attended the hearing to mount that much-vaunted challenge.

Instead, SBC’s sole representative was Director of Finance and s.151 Officer, Mr Nick EDWARDS – the man with the cheque book – whose function it was (in common parlance) to ‘pay off’ Ben MARRIOTT.

In the light of this total capitulation by Scarborough Borough Council, what is the significance of the fact that neither Mrs Lisa DIXON nor Mr Nick EDWARDS has responded to public questions published here on the Enquirer about the work they themselves have had carried out on their own properties? (Incidentally, I believe thanks are due to Councillor Dilys CLUER [Green] for ensuring that Directors’ Registers of Interest are back on-line: Here).

And the bitterest pill for SBC to swallow must have been that Ben MARRIOTT told me, with a satisfied smile on his face, that he had resolutely refused to enter into a Non-Disclosure Agreement – leaving the way clear for publication, no doubt in instalments, of all the nooks and crannies of the whole sordid affair. Water on stone . . .

On 22nd December 2016, SBC’s Director of Legal & Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Mrs Lisa DIXON, emailed all 50 SBC Councillors, seeking to play down the Council’s dismal defeat at the hands of Mr MARRIOTT’s legal team. Setting aside Mrs DIXON’s weasely-worded pleading that the Council had capitulated only to save tax-payers’ money(!), please pay special attention to the fourth paragraph, which I have highlighted in bold, with the key phrase in underlined type:

Dear all

For information, the employment tribunal case involving one of our former employees, Mr Ben Marriott, concluded in Hull last week.

Although the Council remains disappointed by the Tribunal’s decision, to avoid any further court costs and implications on the public purse, the Council reached a settlement with Mr Marriott.

For the record, the settlement was for the Council to pay £95k to Mr Marriott.

Mr Marriott asked for a confidentiality clause in relation to the settlement but the Council refused this as the Council considered it important in the interests of transparency for the settlement to be made public.

The Council’s legal fees in the matter are approximately £16.7k.

The external investigation we have instigated with our external auditors, Mazars, is now underway and we await the investigation’s findings early in the New Year.

Kind regard

Lisa Dixon, Solicitor

I suppressed a loud guffaw when I read that Mrs DIXON was appealing to “the interests of transparency” – as though transparency has ever been any sort of a consideration at SBC.

Readers may remember that on 2nd January 2017, the Enquirer published an Open Letter from Ben MARRIOTT, addressed to everyone in the Borough. Item 4 in Mr MARRIOTT’s letter openly challenged the integrity of Mrs DIXON, who had stated outright that it was Mr MARRIOTT –  not the Council – who sought a confidentiality clause (a Non-Disclosure Agreement, or NDA) as part of his settlement package.

The government has published a document on this subject, signed off by the Rt.Hon. Eric PICKLES [Con.] when he was Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government (2015),  entitled “Use of severance agreements and ‘off payroll’ arrangements Guidance for local authorities”.

The following excerpt tells us all that Mrs DIXON needs to know.

In short, Mrs DIXON was bang out of line even dreaming about a non-disclosure agreement (NDA – or “gagging clause”) in the case of a whistleblower. For her c. £75K per annum, surely she should be aware that an NDA was not an option? Perhaps she just hoped that Mr MARRIOTT wasn’t aware?

In any case, letters from the Council to Mr MARRIOTT leave the matter beyond any doubt.

And why would Ben MARRIOTT lie?

So he is far from being a worried man. But then he is not the one with something to hide . . .

In Full Council, on 9th January 2017 – the notorious ‘Demolition of the Futurist’ meeting – Councillor Andrew BACKHOUSE [Con.], in answer to a shrewdly-framed question from Councillor Gerald DENNETT [Lab.] regarding Mr MARRIOTT’s challenge to Mrs DIXON’s integrity, indicated that the Council would provide full support to Mrs DIXON in whatever action she felt it necessary to pursue.

Just play that again and check the way the Mayor, Councillor Simon GREEN [Con.] (bless), does his best to sand-bag Councillor DENNETT with his dithering interruption “Councillor, Councillor! I don’t think this is quite the place . . . this is already being dealt with elsewhere.”

“Elsewhere”, eh, Simon? Behind which closed doors might that be, Mr Tranparency? I think everybody has your number now, pal. Thank you, at least, for that.

And then, ghost scripted by the normally mute head honcho, “We, we don’t think it’s appropriate to raise this”. Yeah. Right. Sure. It wouldn’t be in the public interest to address whether or not the Monitoring Officer has been disingenuous. Close ranks. Batten down the hatches. Never explain. Never apologise. After all, the public don’t understand such matters, and anyway, it’s none of their damned business.

The sheer arrogance.

Questions:

  • Might one plausible interpretation of Councillor Andy BACKHOUSE’s remarks be that he was asserting that the Council was already committed to underwriting Mrs DIXON’s legal costs in an action for defamation against Ben MARRIOTT? Could he point to where such a decison is Minuted?
  • Or is this another case of a Councillor (a Portfolio Holder, to boot) having been deliberately misled about the true course of events?
  • To what extent will the content of this present article come as news to Councillor Andy BACKHOUSE?
  • And what about his predecessor in the HR Portfolio, Councillor Andrew JENKINSON [Con.] – another who has not responded to public interest questions about how the Elaine BLADES / Alison JOHNSON investigation of the Ben MARRIOTT allegations could have passed under his radar, or over his head?
  • Does Councillor Andy BACKOUSE know that he may lack the authority to make such a commitment in support of Lisa DIXON?

A thorny question, this last one. He may wish he had read and digested the following article (on the LocalGovernmentLawyer.com web-site) entitled “Protecting the reputation of the council”, before allowing his customarily measured observations to stray into such dangerous territory.

One obstacle that Mrs DIXON would need to surmount in any putative libel action against Mr MARRIOTT (which would have to be at her own expense – not ours) is that the truth provides a complete defence to defamation. Nobody at the Town Hall would rush to sue me for using the term “that sink-hole of scrofulosity on St Nicholas Street”. (Five will get you ten that by the time you read that word, Mrs DIXON will have already Googled it – ‘sink-hole’, I mean).

Another obstacle is that Mr MARRIOTT is not alone in challenging Mrs DIXON’s integrity. (My collection of Facebook screenshots includes literally scores of excoriating comments and allegations made by people from all walks of life. Will the Council sue them all? With our money?).

And let us be clear that every citizen has the right to challenge any paid public servant’s integrity. I would argue that every citizen has a duty to challenge any paid public servant’s integrity. They work for us – the public. They are paid by the public. Their glorious pensions are paid by the public. They are accountable to the public in every way and to every degree.

The glorious fact is that the Council has no power to prevent interested citizens from scrutinising its activities – and publishing their findings into the public domain. Try as I will, I cannot think of one plausible reason why a Monitoring Officer should take exception to evidence of corruption in the Council being exposed. Well, perhaps one . . .

The following excerpt from the draft Minutes of the Cabinet Meeting of 17th January 2017 (not yet available to the public) indicates that the matter of Mrs DIXON’s integrity remains, in some sense, ‘live’:

Comparing Councillor Andy BACKHOUSE’s response to Councillor Mike COCKERILL’s clearly ‘staged’ question – an almost verbatim re-iteration of Mrs DIXON’s letter to all Councillor of 22nd December 2016 (reproduced above) – keen observers will have noted the inclusion of an extra sentence in the BACKHOUSE version, namely:

  • “The Council did not engage a QC in relation to this matter.”

This much at least we know to be true. Judge Humphrey FORREST’s Judgment in the case is reproduced here.

The title page reveals that the Council (the Respondent) was represented Mr Albert WEISS – Counsel. Mr WEISS is not a QC.

But the inference that Mrs DIXON hopes that Councillors will draw is that the Council was frugal in its appointment of a barrister on a lower pay-scale than a QC – without mentioning that every penny spent defending the indefensible was a profligate waste of taxpayers’ money; the Council lost. The public pays.

So that accounts for the claimed £16.7K of SBC’ legal costs. Maybe. By today’s standards, it seems a small price to pay for Counsel attending six days in court, plus pre-trial conferences, case management reviews, phone calls (at somewhere in the region of £15 per minute), letters, emails, faxes, printing, etc, etc.

But Mrs DIXON is still persisting in the pretence that the Elaine BLADES/Alison JOHNSON “complete whitewash” investigation, and all the other in-house legal work pursued by Mark ROBINSON and the rest of the ‘award-winning team’ cost the public purse nothing. The motto at SBC Legal would appear to be: “If you absolutely must tell the truth, tell only half of it”.

But as complacent as our public servants may have become, throughout the forty-three years since the Local Government Act 1972 granted them their ‘authority’ on 1st April 1974, sooner or later they will recognise that the age of the internet offers every citizen the opportunity to see what they have been machinating behind their closed doors – and to tell the world.

Well, the Enquirer has been investigating. And I can assure readers that The Futurist Theatre forms only a relatively small part of a far more ambitious multi-million pound development strategy that will render the centre of Scarborough unrecognisable – and whose chief beneficiaries will not be you or I.

~~~~~

It is interesting to note that the threshold for Petitions to qualify for a debate in Parliament is 100,000 signatures.

100,000 equates to 0.156% of a national population of 64.1 million. (A sixth of one per cent).

The Borough of Scarborough has a population of 108,006. By the national standard, it needed only 169 people to sign the Scarborough resident’s Petition. 169 signatures to surpass the national threshold.

At the time of writing, there are approximately 2,200 signatures on a Petition calling for a VOTE of NO CONFIDENCE in SBC Leader Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] and his Tory Cabinet (at The Futurist, they would have to resort to standing in the aisles).

That equates to 2.067% of a population of 108,006. So the Petition in Scarborough exceeds the national threshold by a factor of 13.25 times greater support.

So my final question is this:

Which Scarborough Borough Councillors have the backbone to demand a VOTE of NO CONFIDENCE (click on the URL-link) in BASTIMAN’s last bastion, the cabinet.

Or are they all content to keep wallowing in the swamp

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