Guest Author Stormin’ NORMAN MURPHY, former (perhaps future) SBC Councillor, sets forth his views on the Yorkshire Coast BID fiasco – reputedly on a road to nowhere, with directors picking their moment to get off the bus.
“A BID Too Far”
As many of you will have seen, the investigation conducted by Peter Stanyon into the part played by SBC in the introduction of the YCDBID has now, reluctantly, been placed into the public domain by Scarborough Council. The Stanyon Report, as many suspected it would be, is, in fact, highly critical of SBC in a significant number of respects, and consequently it is not surprising that SBC Officers, true to form, were reticent in releasing the Report.
Indeed, the Report brings to light many failings in the way in which SBC oversaw the establishment of the DBID scheme, for example highlighting (at 4.70 in the Report), the fact that the ballot, which was the method employed by SBC to validate and legalise the scheme, was ‘open to exploitation by the DBID proposer’ as it was ‘guided by Mr Mo Aswat and his Mosaic Partnership’ who were the very people who stood to gain the most from the DBID scheme once it was accepted by the Council.
Moreover, Stanyon goes on to say further that ‘One of the peculiarities of these ballots is that the DBID proposer (Mr Mo Aswat in our case) is focussed on generating support for the proposal’. In other words, the legislation covering the introduction of DBIDs does not rule out, incredibly, allowing those who stand to gain millions from the introduction of DBIDs, in this case the Mosaic Partnership (owned by Mr Mo Aswat) to focus their efforts on generating support for the result they want.
This, shall we say, “anomaly” in the legislation, which allows the organisation which stands to make a fortune from persuading Councils to back DBIDs, is NOT – unsurprisingly – considered by many to be good practice, and should, therefore, quite obviously, if a fair and unbiased result is what is wanted, be avoided at all costs.
However, you got it, at SBC the participation of the Mosaic Partnership, and Mr Mo Aswat, in deciding who should be consulted, what information they should receive and who would be forced to pay the £5 million cost attached to the DBID, was positively encouraged.
Moreover, and even more incredibly, the Mosaic Partnership and Mr Mo Aswat were invited by SBC, in part at least, to actively participate in the organising and running of the ballot, the positive result of which was needed to allow SBC to start extracting the 1.5% levy from the nearly 1,300 businesses, who would be legally forced to stump up the cash. A classic example of the poacher advising the gamekeeper, if ever I saw one.
So what was the Mosaic Partnership’s advice to the Council? Well, it clearly states in the regulations relating to the setting up of DBIDs that the relevant billing authority, in this case SBC, should provide those who will be forced to pay the DBID levy an accurate map or, as the regulations put it, a Definitive Plan, clearly defining the area over which the proposals of the DBID will have an effect.
However, when Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, who had been a part of the original DBID proposals, pulled out of the DBID scheme, realising, as I am sure they did, that the whole DBID project was a crock of shit, the Mosaic Partnership did not bother to furnish prospective DBID payers with a new, revised Definitive Plan.
As Mr Gareth Pinwell of Ashfords LLP, the firm of solicitors acting for the vast majority of business owners who are against the imposition of the DBID, rightly points out, from information contained within the Stanyon Report, ‘no definitive plan was submitted to the Council to enable it to decide to proceed with the BID. Therefore, the Council acted “UNLAWFULLY” by proceeding with the process and the ballot as the initial BID proposals were defective’.
Furthermore, those who the Mosaic Partnership wanted to pay the DBID levy should have been sent a ballot paper and a business plan addressed to them personally, by name. However, in some vitally important cases, the Mosaic Partnership changed the way in which the ballot paper and business plan were addressed, sending the forms not to the individual who would be required to pay the ultimate bill but instead to ‘the Owner/Occupier’.
This change in how the forms were addressed, and amazingly allowed by SBC electoral staff, in itself, caused many levy payers to ignore the pack in which the vitally important ballot papers were enclosed, many thinking, as I am sure the DBID organisers wanted and intended, that it was more junk mail. As Stanyon says, at paragraph 5.17 in his Report, ‘the names (if known) should have been used’.
However, it is, perhaps, the administration of the all-important ballot run by SBC that causes most concern. As Stanyon observes: ‘the ballot was carried out in a way incompatible with the ballot being administered in a consistent and fair manner’.
This view taken by Stanyon, that the way in which the ballot had been carried out was ‘incompatible with the ballot being administered in a consistent and fair manner’, must relate to the widely held view that a source within Scarborough Borough Council was actively passing information on how the ballot was going to the DBID promoters at the Mosaic Partnership.
Indeed, it is strongly rumoured that SBC gave the Mosaic Partnership the names and address of business proprietors, who had already been ‘assessed’ as being likely to vote YES to the DBID, but had not yet voted. Consequently, with this vital information the Mosaic Partnership was able to contact these reluctant voters and actively encourage them, or even coerce them, to vote in favour of the DBID.
The administration of the ballot was, in fact, a disgrace and the electoral team at SBC should have realised, and probably did realise, that oversight of the ballot by the Mosaic Partnership should never have been allowed.
The SBC electoral team must also have known that the way in which the DBID ballot was being run would achieve one result and one result only, and that was the successful introduction of the DBID. They must further have known that once the DBID had been accepted, it would benefit nobody but the Council and the Mosaic Partnership. Confirming, many would argue, that the DBID ballot had indeed not been ‘administered in a consistent and fair manner’ and that, therefore, the SBC electoral team had no regard for the democratic rights of those who would have to pay for it.
This sort of collusion and incestuous behaviour is, of course, despicable and no Council, and certainly no Council that claims to be a caring, open and transparent Council, should ever condone, or seek to defend, such an appalling situation. However, this is exactly, as many people read it, what the present Labour leadership of SBC are currently trying to do.
Instead, of accepting the findings of the Stanyon Report for what they are, which is, as many people see it, a full-blooded condemnation of the actions of both SBC and its partner in crime the Mosaic Partnership, the present Labour leadership, and its paid Officers, have been, and are still, doing their best to minimise and play down the appalling failings of the Council exposed in the damning Stanyon Report.
As will be recalled, this attempt to conceal SBC’s part in this disgraceful affair started even before the Report was released to the public when, on the orders of SBC Finance Director Mr Nick Edwards, it was withheld because he wanted, so he claimed, ‘clarifications’.
This Report should not even have gone to the Finance Director; it should have gone first and foremost to the Chair of the Audit Committee, who at that time was Independent Councillor Sam Cross, whose committee members were to independently scrutinise the Report’s contents without the interference and possible bias from the paid Officers who were intimately involved in the original decisions.
This interference in who saw the Report was followed by the appointment of the so-called independent person to the Audit Committee, Dr Jim Brace. Good old Dr Jim, who is a well-known Labour Party supporter, has been parachuted into the Audit Committee, many think, to ensure that the Stanyon Report is given a prompt, and very deep burial whenever, but possibly never, it is brought before the Audit Committee for consideration.
Dr Jim Brace (centre), pictured with Labour Cllr Eric Broadbent (left)
The installation of good old Dr Jim on the Audit Committee was promptly followed by the removal of the chair of the Audit Committee, Independent Councillor Sam Cross, who has been a long-time critic of the YCDBID and the Mosaic Partnership and, to be fair, the present Labour leadership. Taken together, these moves, I am fairly sure, have been made by the present leadership of the Council, in the hope that once the Audit Committee has reviewed the findings of the Stanyon Report, they can be quickly, and very deeply, buried – never to be seen or heard of again.
Indeed, it seems the grave for the Stanyon Report has already been dug with a leading Labour spokesperson claiming that ‘it is clear that the overall process could have been improved, ultimately, we did follow the regulations and there were no irregularities’.
How anyone, after objectively reading the Stanyon Report, could come to the conclusion that ‘there were no irregularities’, for me at least, defies belief, and confirms, if confirmation were now necessary, that the present Labour leadership is not fit for purpose and is certainly not acting in the best interests of those it purports to serve.
In fact, it now seems that the Borough’s residents; having choked for so long on the stench of corruption emanating from Scarborough Town Hall, must now endure the overpowering stink of Bull Shit, spewed out by the present Labour Council leadership, as it attempts to cover up its undemocratic and utterly disgraceful abandonment of 1,300 local business owners, who will soon be at the tender mercy of the DBID scheme administrators.
A prospect that must fill the hearts of DBID payers with despair and trepidation as, in my humble opinion, no mercy will be forthcoming from either the current Labour administration running SBC or the Conservative administration running East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) which is under the command of Mrs Caroline Lacey – CEO and Head of Paid Service – or the Mosaic Partnership and its directors.
Mrs Caroline Lacey (CEO and Head of Paid Service at ERYC)
A view that is amply confirmed by the gleeful Mrs Lacey who proclaimed recently that she had “received a response from the head of the legal team, [her legal team at ERYC] and he [was] of the view that the case [the court case against those business proprietors who had not paid up] will proceed as planned and there will be no adjournment”.
In other words ERY Council and, inevitably SBC, can now, despite the fact that many of these business might not even survive the next three months, happily summons to Court business owners who have not paid their DBID blood money. A despicable course of action to take at the best of times and especially so coming as it does from a Council Leader, Councillor Richard Burton [Con.], who pompously declared only recently that he and ERY Council ‘always try to do our very best. Our best for the East Riding. Our best for residents. Our best for businesses. Our best for local communities. Our best for the East Riding economy’. The irony of such sentiments will, I am sure, not be lost on those having to pay their DBID bills.
That being said, expecting mercy, or even a little human compassion, from institutions such as SBC and ERYC was never very likely to be forthcoming. Indeed, the money grabbing attitude of SBC and ERYC will not, undoubtedly, have come as much of a surprise to anyone; but what has surprised quite a few people is the response from DBID board members. It might have been expected that the fine fellows who constitute the YCDBID board might be more sympathetic, humane and compassionate towards their fellow levy payers.
However, it seems that, for the time being at least, Chair of the YCDBID, the grandly named Mr Clive Rowe-Evans, and his fellow directors are supporting their local sheriff and backing the Council’s prosecution of non-payers. Whether their backing for the local authorities will continue is, of course, unknown, but it would seem to me that any self-respecting individual, in light of the despicable way in which the DBID has been introduced and is currently being administered, would want to sever any ties with the DBID and the Mosaic Partnership as soon as is practically possible.
Indeed, it might well be asked, who would want to be associated with an organisation that clearly puts profit and self-interest above the wellbeing and ongoing viability of its members’ businesses; unless that is, they have as much to gain from the DBID as Mr Mo Aswat.
Mosaic Partnership supremo, Mr Mo Aswat
However, my feeling is that mercy, compassion, empathy and sympathy are not, at least on previous form, attributes that the DBID company and its partners hold in any great measure. This sad reality is, it seems, all too readily confirmed by the liability order applications now being brought against those businesses who have not paid the blood-sucking DBID company.
At this crucial time, when lenders, central government, utility companies and many other institutions are striving to find ways to keep our local businesses afloat, SBC, ERYC and the Mosaic Partnership are turning the thumb-screws even tighter and demanding that 1,300 local businesses pay their DBID levy, no matter how many people suffer.
Indeed, my gut feeling is that no matter how much hurt and pain these institutions and individuals inflict on those they seek to persecute nothing will deter them from ruthlessly pursuing their victims until they have extracted every last penny from them. For, as Leo Tolstoy so eloquently put it; “The greater the state, the more wrong and cruel its patriotism, and the greater is the sum of suffering upon which its power is founded”.