Thursday 26th April 2018,
North Yorks Enquirer

SBC: Spotlight on the Directorate

SBC: Spotlight on the Directorate

  • an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, commenting on Councillor Rob BARNETT’s recent Letter to the Editor “Telling It Like It Is” ( 10/04/18), in which he highlighted the lack of transparency inherent in the SBC Directorate’s regular ‘behind closed doors’ meetings.

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Councillor Rob BARNETT [Lab.] has struck a chord with an extraordinary number of Enquirer readers in his recent Letter to the Editor.

Of all the many comments that I have seen on social media and in my in-tray, not a single one took issue with Councillor BARNETT’s main point of contention – that it is neither democratic, transparent nor accountable for unelected Officers of Paid Service to meet behind closed doors to determine the forthcoming strategies and policies of the Council.

I am grateful to a reader in the Craven District Council catchment area for drawing my attention to the following information published on the website of the Information Commission’s Office (PDF document download here and embedded at the foot of this article).

The relevant passage is located on page 3.

Perhaps I am mistaken in my interpretation of bullet-point 3:

  • minutes of senior-level policy and strategy meetings, eg board meetings

Nevertheless, it seems to me that this is a specific reference to:

Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service

Jim DILLON BA(Hons) MCIPD (Salary £108,500 per annum)
Email: jim.dillon@scarborough.gov.uk
Tel: 01723 232302

s.151 Officer and Director of Finance & Business Services

Nicholas EDWARDS CPFA (Salary £75,700 per annum)
Email: nick.edwards@scarborough.gov.uk
Tel: 01723 232410

Monitoring Officer and Director of Legal & Democratic Services

Lisa Dixon – Solicitor (Salary £75,700 per annum)
Email: lisa.dixon@scarborough.gov.uk
Tel: 01723 232350

Litigation Counsel and Director of Commerce

Richard Bradley (Salary £75,700 per annum)
Email: richard.bradley@scarborough.gov.uk

At their next secret meeting, the Directorate (collective salaries: £335,600 per annum to manipulate the future of the Borough in secret) will no doubt be discussing how to spend your money attempting to silence the North Yorks Enquirer AND Councillor Rob BARNETT in order to keep a lid on their ‘confidential’ deliberations. And one might reasonably expect that Councillor BARNETT will be hauled before the toothless, useless and thoroughly compromised Standards Committee (Chair: Councillor Heather PHILLIPS [Con.], whose failure to declare a pecuniary interest remains unaddressed), for breaching Article 1 (or, perhaps, 16) of the Protocol on Officers-Members Relations.

  1. Both Members and Officers of Scarborough Borough Council are servants of the public and they are indispensable to one another. Their relationship is to be based on mutual respect, understanding and support of and for their respective roles.

Councillor BARNETT’s expression of his opinion will no doubt be ‘deemed’ an act of ‘disrespect’ towards the Directorate for their departure from the gospel according to the Information Commissioner – not withstanding the protection of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

Is it too much to ask that Labour Group Leader, Councillor Steve SIDDONS [Lab.], in his capacity as Chair of the Overview & Scrutiny Board, proceeds to examine the appropriateness/legality of these present secret meetings of the Directorate?

Is it too much to ask that we, the electorate, are at liberty to scrutinise the Directorate meetings – and comment on our findings?

Far be it from me to suggest that even if the Directors were to provide Agendas and Minutes of their meetings AND hold them in public – as our elected Councillors are required by law to do – they would simply meet in camera beforehand, both to conduct their real discussions and to rehearse the sanitized version to be played out later in front of Councillors and members of the public – in much the same way that the Cabinet ‘fakes’ its deliberations. Perish the thought.

Nevertheless, in my view, it would be more democratic and transparent if the Directorate were to conduct its meetings ON CAMERA rather than in camera – if I am ‘permitted’ to say so,  without being “vexatious”.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, remember, has indicated that “a public authority should publish . . . minutes of senior-level policy and strategy meetings, e.g. board meetings”.

In Councillor Councillor BARNETT’s words, that is “exactly the very minimum expectation”.

“Hear, hear!” to that. Alas, the tail really is wagging the dog.

How many roads must a man walk down before we call Jim DILLON a cab?

Download the PDF file ICO_Minutes/Agendas.

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