Wednesday 24th April 2019,
North Yorks Enquirer

The Stamp(s) of Authority?

The Stamp(s) of Authority?

  • – an ‘In My View’ article – by Nigel Ward

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IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST

Back on 2nd December, Real Whitby published an article of mine entitled “Double-Dipping double-talk – a ‘frank and honest’ statement?”.  Three days later, a member of the public posted a ‘comment’ that aroused my interest:

Frank Chalmers

December 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Interesting article, and one that I’m not surprised to see Councillor John Blackburn on.

A good friend of mine once recounted a discussion with himself and Cllr Blackburn..

In this discussion Cllr Blackburn was talking about the postage allowance. This is where NYCC distributes a certain number of postage stamps to each Cllr, for use on official letters and so on.

Cllr Blackburn stated that he saw it as “appropriate” to use these at later dates such as sending out election letters, and campaign materials, or for Christmas cards and so on.

My friend then talked about how Cllr Blackburn mentioned he had a “stock” of these stamps at home – effectively hoarding them.

This is corruption pure and simple.

So much for official business when our money is being spent like this.

I have never had the pleasure of meeting Frank Chalmers; but I know someone who has.

It was, therefore, a simple matter to ascertain the identity of the individual who is reported to have witnessed County Councillor John BLACKBURN’s rather rash remarks. I was able to interview that individual and I quickly recognised that the alleged conversation had in fact taken place with others present. In such circumstance, a frivolous or fictitious allegation can safely be ruled out.

Many readers will be aware that the law pertaining to the misappropriation of resources and/or money from the Council by an elected member has been clouded recently by the determination of Scarborough and North Yorkshire County Council Monitoring Officers to cover-up matters that have been identified as breaches of the Fraud Act 2006.

The use of Council-provided resources for the purposes of financing an elected member’s electoral ambitions are no less serious.

So, on 6th December, I emailed NYCC Head of Legal & Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer, Carole DUNN, copying in Mr Jim DILLON (Electoral Officer) raising a number of concerns – amongst them:

  • “Given that County Councillor John BLACKBURN was elected on 16th July 2004, the very real possibility exists that stamps freely provided, or appropriately reimbursed, by NYCC for use at that time (with a then value/price of 28p) have not been used as intended and, rather, have been hoarded for conversion at a later date (up to and including the present day, when the value/price is 60p). This would appear to suggest profiteering”.

I also pointed out that:

  • “It is important to note that, should the allegations prove unfounded, Councillor John BLACKBURN may feel himself to be the victim of a defamation. It would then be at his own prerogative to instigate legal action for libel by appointing legal representation at his own cost.”

I asked a number of questions:

(1)   Please advise me, for possible future reference, on the correct category or categories of the Code of Conduct within which these actions could be most satisfactorally and comprehensively addressed. Thank you.

(2)   It may be a matter for the Electoral Commission. Would you please clarify for me whether or not such is the case? Thank you.

(3)   It may also be a matter for the Conservative Party. Would you please clarify for me whether or not such is the case? Thank you.

And I included for Carole DUNN the text of my intended email to County Councillor John BLACBURN, offering him the customary right of reply, which I subsequently despatched (including the text of the above-referenced public allegation against him):

County Councillor John BLACKBURN

John,

Ahead of publication of an article addressing, inter alia, a number of allegations that have recently come to light, I write to offer you an opportunity to comment on the following public posting on a local internet newsblog, the text of which I reproduce below this email, for your convenient reference.

If you wish to make a statement of any kind, please be so good as to email your text to me at your very earliest convenience.

Kind regards,

Nigel

I have had no response whatsoever from Carole DUNN.

And I have had no response whatsoever from County Councillor John BLACKBURN – who, readers will recall, is one of the Broadband Allowance double-dippers.

A cursory search of the NYCC website left me in some doubt as to the regulations on these issues, so I checked a number of other County Councils, and this is what I found:

  • 9. Use of County Council Resources
  • 9.1. The County Council’s Code of Conduct for Members prohibits councillors using County Council resources for party political purposes.
  • 9.2. The use of County Council resources for party political purposes covers not only publication of campaigning material but also any other activity intended to promote purely party political interests. The definition of County Council resources includes but is not limited to IT, telephones, fax machines, photocopiers, stationary and headed notepaper, postage, transport and staff time.

So beyond doubt or discussion, the use of postage stamps provided by the County Council for ward/constituency correspondence for purely personal or Party use, for personal profit, or for party political electioneering purposes is a grave misuse of the public purse.

It is perfectly legitimate to question the failure on the part of Monitoring Officer Carole DUNN to respond to correspondence outlining yet another very serious public allegation of impropriety when to do so is without doubt one of her principle duties as Monitoring Officer.

It may be that, in the fullness of time, Carole DUNN informs me that elected members have an ‘entitlement’ – as she maintains in respect of their double-dipping of Broadband Allowances – to profiteer from the Stamp Allowances and/or to finance their electoral campaigns at the taxpayers expense. And I wonder, too, why Carole DUNN has not ‘joined the dots’? The same faces keep cropping up; could it be that these County Councillors are cluing each other in to the ‘safest’ and most exploitable opportunities to milk the most from their perceived ‘entitlements’? Is Carole DUNN turning a blind eye? Are they really ‘all in it together’, as we have repeatedly been assured?

But what puzzles me more is this:

  • Why has County Councillor John BLACKBURN elected to rely on his right to silence, when, surely, good conscience and the commitment that he has made – as a Councillor and a member of the Conservative Party (resolutely committed, we are assured, to open, transparent and accountable Government and a total opposition to sleaze) – should permit, nay, require him to avail himself of the opportunity to publish a denial – or to ‘come clean’?

So what is your position on this, County Councillor John BLACKBURN?

I think we should be told.

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