YCBID: The End – is it Nigh?
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, sharing – in the public interest – a fascinating thread of unanswered correspondence on the subject of the Yorkshire Coast BID Limited [Chair: Mr Clive ROWE-EVANS – Company number: 11820859 – VAT Registration No.: 324894184]
Is the end nigh for the Yorkshire Coast BID?
In my view, the following thread of correspondence (reproduced below) demonstrates, at the very least, that, despite the best efforts of Officers of Paid Service at Scarborough Borough Council, the Yorkshire coast’s most despised gravy train may be about to hit the buffers.
By way of introduction, let me preface the correspondence with a word of thanks to those Scarborough Borough Councillors who believe in “openness and transparency” for their public-spirited largesse in offering what follows for release into the public domain, in the public interest.
I thank you, Councillors.
Unavoidably, the following correspondence presents a challenging read. It is lengthy and complex. However, studied carefully it offers a crystal clear insight into an intransigent display of real or feigned stupidity by ‘the powers that be’, who, in my opinion, through either ignorance or self-interest, have failed to adhere to statute and flouted the VAT requirements in realtion to the BID – despite having been politely informed of the error of their ways, on more than one occasion.
For the benefit of BID Levy-payers who have come upon the North Yorks Enquirer only recently, and for the benefit of certain right-thinking East Riding of Yorkshire Councillors who may be only passingly familar with some of the names which occur in the process of explaining the background to this thread of correspondence, it is helpful to set forth the following Dramatis Personae, or Cast of Characters. The correspondence will follow, in chronological order.
Mr James CORRIGAN is a third-generation Scarborough businessman and entrepreneur who has taken professional advice from one of the north’s leading law firms (Lupton Fawcett LLP) and several of the north’s leading accountancy and VAT specialists, whose competence and integrity is beyond any notion of reproach.
Mr Clive ROWE-EVANS is the Chair of Yorkshire Coast BID Ltd, of whom I cannot say the same.
Mr Mike GREENE is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Head of Paid Service of Scarborough Borough Council.
Mrs Lisa DIXON is the Director of Legal & Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer of Scarborough Borough Council.
Newer readers may benefit from reading my own Open Letter to Mr GREENE, published on 5th June 2022; hopefully, that has set the scene for the correspondence which follows. To the best of my knowledge and belief, neither my own nor Mr CORRIGAN’s communications have been dignified with a response or even an acknowledgement. Bunker mentality prevails.
Item 1 – 6th June 2022
Mr CORRIGAN’s letter to Mr Clive ROWE-EVANS, Chair of Yorkshire Coast BID Ltd, with attached FOIA Response from Scarborough Borough Council:
The following extract from the Operating Agreement between Scarborough Borough Council and Yorkshire Coast BID Ltd is of special interest.
Please see the YCBID Revenue Account as disclosed in FOIA8486, available separately here.
Item 2 – 6th June 2022
Mr CORRIGAN’s email to Mr Mike GREENE, CEO of Scarborough Borough Council:
From: James Corrigan
Date: 6 June 2022 at 11:10:31 BST
To: Mike Greene <Mike.Greene@scarborough.gov.uk>
I write to you on a personal level, as it is very hard to get your officers to reply. When I write to your elected members, they are instructed by your legal department not to engage with me. Please urgently share this e-mail with the group leaders.
I can state with absolute certainty that the YCBID is very controversial. I’m sure you will agree. Large sections of the local business community have objected to the BID and have united in their stance. The process was imposed on the local business communities through a process controlled by Scarborough Borough Council (“SBC”) that was perceived to be flawed and unfair, notwithstanding the report from Peter Stanyon that was critical of the SBC procedures but did conclude the ballot was legal. There is no evidence of YCBID having done anything to help the BID Levy payers or Improve Business in the area.
I have attached correspondence I have sent to Clive Rowe-Evans, the Chairman of YCBID to point out the very serious VAT problem that exists. SBC have maintained that it is “Agent” for YCBID. YCBID has also maintained this position and has demonstrated this in its published accounts and the invoices sent to SBC.
Please look at the FOI attached to the copy letter that your officers have sent. The information about the BID revenue account is also very interesting as there are no amounts deducted for collection costs. From an examination of the YCBID accounts it is evident that SBC are invoicing YCBID for these costs. Whilst not illegal, this action is supporting your stated position that SBC is Agent for YCBID and is in breach of the Operating Agreement. However, this will not only have very serious consequences for the VAT position for the YCBID, but more importantly from your position for SBC. If this is not rectified SBC has already been charged VAT (by YCBID) and claimed it back (from HM Revenue & Customs) that it is not entitled to and will have to repay an amount of at least £295,715, being the VAT shown as paid to the YCBID on the FOI response. Will you be able to recover this from YCBID?
Peter Stanyon’s criticism of the ballot process demonstrated that SBC did not fully understand the process. It is clear that there is also a failure to understand the operation of the BID in the period after the ballot.
May I remind you that I challenged your Section 151 officer on his proposed change to the MRP. You took advice from KPMG and the change was reversed resulting in a £1.2million adjustment to the already published accounts. Perhaps now is the time to refer the relationship with YCBID to KPMG so that they can again confirm what I have stated consistently since November 2019 – that SBC is not an Agent for YCBID. For the avoidance of any doubt, I will be raising an Objection to SBC’s 2021-22 accounts on this point.
You might not like what I am saying, but I am well advised in this matter and assured by highly respected professional accountants, specialist consultants and lawyers that the position I have stated is correct. Quite frankly this is a shambolic situation and it is time that the Council started listening. I first raised this point through my lawyer in November 2019. The whole BID fiasco has severely damaged the relationship between SBC and the local businesses. This is a very serious situation and your time to repair that relationship is rapidly running out.
Item 3 – 6th June 2022
Mrs Lisa DIXON’s ‘Confidential’ “MEMBER BRIEFING: YORKSHIRE COAST BID LEVY” to all elected Scarborough Borough Councillors – clearly in reaction to Item 2 (Mr CORRIGAN’s email to the CEO, Mr GREENE).
The final paragraph, at the bottom of Page 2, betrays the classic public ‘servant’ tactic of passing the parcel – a.s.a.p.:
14. The Council sought clarification of the VAT treatment of the Bid levy at the time that the operating agreement was entered into and adhered to the advice given. In light of the fact that some levy payers have now raised queries relating to this treatment, the Chief Executive has deemed it prudent to seek external advice to further clarify the VAT position.
In plain language, I would translate the passage highlighted in bold to mean:
“We read (and apparently misunderstood) the HMRC Guidance, and now the CEO (who took up his appointment only after the BID was incorporated) is feeling less than fully satisfied that we got it right”.
Item 4 – 7th June 2022
Mr A McCARTEN, Deputy Manager Local Taxation – authorised (I am sure) by Mrs Lisa DIXON – transmitted the following email to all elected Scarborough Borough Councillors, confirming the Adjournment of the hearing at West Riding Magistrates’ Court, where the Council was seeking Liability Orders against recalcitrant Levy-payers.
This communication (dated 7th June 2022) stands in sharp contrast to statements made earlier that same day by SBC telephone operatives in which non-payers were informed that failure to pay the Levy ahead of the Magistrates’ Court hearing may result in prison sentences – and not only by SBC telephone operatives; in letters to Levy non-payers signed off by SBC Local Taxation Officer Mrs Sherri WILLIAMSON, the Council was threatening non-payer with imprisonment – in writing, in bold type:
U-Turn. The Council would appear to have experienced an epiphany in those intervening few days. The penny must have dropped.
Item 5 – 9th June 2022
Mr CORRIGAN’s email to all elected members of Scarborough Borough Council – presumably having had sight of Mrs DIXON’s ‘Confidential’ “MEMBER BRIEFING: YORKSHIRE COAST BID LEVY” and been made aware of the Adjournment:
From: James Corrigan
Date: 9 June 2022 at 16:56:03 BST
To: All Scarborough Borough Councillors
It is with regret that I send this email and attachments to you all.
I sent the below e-mail [Item 2] to your Chief Executive and copied it to interested parties at NYCC, ERYC and our MP. I deliberately only included a very limited number of SBC Members to ensure that the contents which can generously described as rather embarrassing or more precisely as a misunderstanding between SBC and your Agent, YCBID, of the nature of their contractual relationship with potentially serious VAT consequences. Simply because both parties (SBC and YCBID) are operating in a manner that is the exact opposite of the contractual Operating Agreement, this could be perceived to be a variation of that agreement, with catastrophic consequences.
You will note that I sent the communication to Mr Greene on Monday with a simple request for him to share with group leaders. I did not expect a reply from him (or the Chairman of YCB) which I can confirm has not happened. However I did expect this serious matter to be shared with group leaders.
I have made enquiries with a number of Members who have confirmed this has not happened.
I strongly suspect that this e-mail and attachment was the reason Local Taxation has written to all those who have been issued with court summons for this today to notify all, en-block, the case has been adjourned. Coincidence? I think not.
From my numerous conversations with Members I understand that intentional obstacles are being put in the way by paid service to convene a constitutionally correct requisition for a debate on this very subject.Whilst not wishing to tell you how to proceed, it would be prudent to request copies of the letter of instruction and the advice received at the start of the BID process that was referred to in the Member’s Briefing document recently sent out. The same information should also be sought in relation to the external VAT advice that has also been mentioned, to ensure that you are fully appraised of this situation.
Regrettably due to the failure to share this extremely serious matter with group leaders of the dilemma SBC and YCB now face I have had to inform all of you directly in the knowledge that this will now be shared to media outlets.
Finally, I would like to make it clear that I have not caused any problems for the Council. I have taken an interest in what is going on in the town I love and examined various actions that the Council has carried out in accordance and with the encouragement of your very own Constitution – others have formed a judgment based on my informed position. The problems I have identified are certainly not of my making and have been significantly compounded by Officers refusal to engage with my lawyers.
I am sorry that I have had to write in these terms again, but now is the time to grasp the nettle and save the Council’s reputation. Otherwise the Council will be severely implicated if having had these matters brought to its attention, no action is taken.
Once again, as we see, elected members are being deliberately deprived of the information necessary to allow them to perform their democratic duties.
Once again, the tail is wagging the dog.
It is to be hoped that all Councillors, when given the opportunity to debate these issues, will attend the Council Chamber in full knowledge of the true state of affairs.
Whilst acknowledging the sterling work carried out by the Yorkshire Coast Levy Payers’ Association, documenting every aspect of the Yorkshire Coast BID’s abject failure to attract additional visitors and enhance footfall along the Yorkshire coast, as well as its departure from governance requirements in regard to Board membership and private sector business involvement, it seems clear to me that Scarborough Borough Councillors now have the means in hand – courtesy of Mr CORRIGAN – to rid local businesses, once and for all, of what I would unhesitatingly describe as an undemocratic and worthless parasite.
Concurrently, I have informed East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Director of Legal, Mr Mathew BUCKLEY (who, I am informed, will be leaving his Council at the end of August), and selected ERYC elected members, of Mr CORRIGAN’s discoveries. I have since learned that Mr BUCKLEY has elected to be “out of office” until next week. Shrewd move.
Interestingly, ERYC CEO Mrs Caroline LACEY was formerly Director of Finance and should therefore have an adequate understanding of the situation.
So I have shared with her my correspondence with Mr BUCKLEY. Mrs LACEY has kindly acknowledged receipt of my email. She, too, has now ‘gone to ground’.
ERYC Full Council will meet on 22nd June 2022 to consider a motion to re-assess the whole BID process – which should suffice to re-inforce Mr CORRIGAN’s discoveries.
Finally – and without wishing to steal Mr CORRIGAN’s thunder – I will presently reveal that there is one persone illustri at Scarborough Borough Council whose qualifications suggest a comprehensive foreknowledge of this impending ‘train crash’ – but has kept schtumm. There will be widespread rejoicing along the Yorkshire coast.
Is the end nigh for the Yorkshire Coast BID?
Over to you, Councillors.
Over to you, Clive.
“History repeats itself – first as tragedy, then as farce.”
[Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel]