Sunday 24th September 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

“The MARRIOTT Whitewash”

A Letter to the Editor from former Scarborough Borough Councillor MIKE WARD [Ind.] (who is not related to Enquirer regular NIGEL WARD), offering something of an “insider” view on the forthcoming investigation into the fraud and corruption allegations made by “whistle-blower” BEN MARRIOTT – and touching upon other irregularities with associated ethical shortcomings.

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Sir,

The decision by the ruling Conservative Group on Scarborough Borough Council to instigate an external review into the issues that have been highlighted in the court case involving whistle-blower Ben Marriott is to be applauded.

Ben Marriott must be congratulated for his actions not least in bringing about the need for a review.

He also needs to be given a full apology for what he has had to endure for a number of years. He deserves a big thank you from all in the local community.

An internal review could never have been undertaken satisfactorily.

Most Councillors would want to see openness and transparency going forward.

All senior Officers as well as many employees/ex employees/councillors have known about some of the issues for at least three years if not longer.

It is difficult to comment on the ability of Mazars, if they are to be appointed by Full Council, to conduct this enquiry. If they have worked for the Council before it might be difficult to come at it with an open mind.

Those conducting the enquiry must be seen to be independent and need to have full powers to investigate the inner workings of the Council. Many inside and outside will have relevant information which needs to be brought into the equation. Any attempt at a whitewash would not be condoned by any right thinking person.

The Leader of the Council, his Cabinet, and certainly Senior Officers, should now step back from the decision on whom to appoint to conduct this enquiry. In that way, they can show they appreciate the need for transparency and prevent any ongoing criticism.

Fraud investigations need specialist expertise and maybe the Audit Commission or others outside the Council should be advising on the best way forward in this case. No gagging orders should be considered or enforced and anyone with information needs to be encouraged to come forward  as soon as possible.

Trust must be restored in local government and our public servants. All are there to serve and not to profit.

The Council’s own regulations have been ignored, rewarding Officers and employees from the public purse. Those employees who do in excess of 3k miles a year are give £990 essential user allowance. However although over 90 claim this allowance only approximately five do the required mileage – many do less than 100 miles, with one doing less than 10. This anomaly was highlighted in a report over 3 years ago.

What happened? Nothing!

Two senior directors who have now left the Council had refused to accept this payment as they considered it morally indefensible but another very senior officer stated to the working party members that we would only remove this allowance over his dead body. The report was ‘buried’ and so approx £250K of our money has been paid out since then and lost to important community projects such as Whitby Piers.

The Car User Allowance is a relatively small issue when compared with Ben Marriott’s revelations, but is yet another example of problems which have affected the way our Council is run.

When the Parks Review, Chaired by Councillor Alf Abbott, brought their report to the Scrutiny Committee, concerns were raised re work practices. That report should be brought before the enquiry.

The whistle-blower’s claims were fully known to senior officers some years ago. When the whistle-blowing first occurred, there was a piece on the North Yorks Enquirer – a fictitious play which seemed to show an uncanny insight into what could have been happening at SBC.

I discussed many of the issues that were the subject of internal and external gossip with two directors. They arranged a meeting for me with the Officer in charge of approving contracts. The work possibly carried out by one contractor at the houses of middle managers was discussed. In return, contracts could have been awarded or prices inflated and thus public monies wasted.

There was also another rumour that one contractor had an overseas villa which had been used by some within SBC.

Talking to an ex-employee, he confirmed my concerns. Unfortunately he was unprepared to come forward to publicly support the whistle-blowing claims as he was still in some part dependent on the Council financially. Maybe he and others would now talk to the enquiry team?

Answers unfortunately were never forthcoming – except I was told an internal audit report had found nothing wrong in the way contracts were awarded. However, with hindsight you have to wonder whether that audit review had all the relevant facts.

There was also talk of preventing SBC employees having work done by Council Contractors though unsure whether this was implemented.

Nor was there a willingness back then for a proper enquiry. It does beg the question – Why ?

Over the last year a few employees have either taken ‘early retirement’ or have ‘left’ but were they the only ones involved ? Did the ‘buck’ stop with them ? Did they agree to go quietly so as to keep their pensions, etc?

Full explanations are now urgently needed.

The blame for any ‘indiscretions’ has been firmly put at their door – or driveway – but could they offer the forthcoming enquiry more insight into what most would hope is not indicative of more widespread corruption  in the Council.

All Officers and middle managers should now declare any works undertaken at any properties they or their family own by contractors who, in turn, have done work for SBC over the last 5/7 years. I am sure Cabinet members and many other Councillors would also be happy to do the same.

I can confirm that, as an ex-councillor, neither I nor any of my family have ever taken advantage of any inappropriate use of Council or Council-contractor services or manpower, but then I was never involved in the awarding of contracts.

As well as work undertaken the same group should consider giving details of any villa holidays taken in the same period.

If there is nothing to hide there is certainly nothing to fear.

However without full and open declarations the mud caused by others can stick.

No hardworking, upstanding councillor, officer or employee would want to be associated with those who may have fallen to temptation.

Anyone accepting offers of work or offers in kind in return for the granting of contracts has been corrupted and there is no place for them in public life.

Those conducting the investigation should be given every support by all within SBC and those in the wider community to ensure they compile a full, open and transparent report with no limitations put on the scope of the enquiry.

Yours,

Mike Ward

Dunsley, Whitby. 23rd October 2016.

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