Dear ‘Major’ Steve
- – an Open Letter to the present Leader of Scarborough Borough Council by NIGEL WARD.
Councillor Steve SIDDONS – Leader – Scarborough Borough Council
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
I write to appeal to you to attempt an objective evaluation of your performance as Leader of Scarborough Borough Councillor and act accordingly. My purpose is to offer you pause to ponder.
To assist you, I am providing you with a convenient aide-mémoire (or, in German, Eselsbrücke; in Italian, ponte dell’ assino – both of which translate, literally, and appropriately, to “ass’s bridge”) to remarks you made in what I think of as your ‘inauguration speech’, on 7th May 2019.
I hope you will not object to me prefacing my remarks with one or two items of interest that precede your election to the Leadership (to compare and contrast your conduct in office with your position as stated when you were in Opposition).
I shall begin with the disgraceful and on-going STASI-like interception of emails.
Notwithstanding the fact that I can demonstrate that I exchanged well over a thousand emails with your Labour and Independent colleagues during their time in Opposition (many directed to the pressing matter of reining in the interference of Senior Officers in the democratic process) – a matter over which you once expressed such indignant repugnance that you led members of your Group out of the Chamber in protest – the interference continues.
I am sure you will recall the following piece in the Private Eye magazine:
What was distressing to Councillor RANDERSON [Lab.] (“no snowflake”) – and apparently to Councillor Janet JEFFERSON [Ind.], too – was the monocratic attitude of the Legal Officers. I remind you:
I remind you, too, of former Deputy Monitoring Officer Mr David KITSON’s timely departure from the Council shortly after having misinformed members to the effect that the interception of emails between members of the public and elected members is authorised under the terms of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) – the purpose and intent of which was solely as an anti-terrorism measure.
It is not. As you now know (or should). Critics are not terrorists.
Yet still you continue to believe those who have shown themselves incapable or unwilling to publicly deny that they have been “incompetent or negligent”, in the monumental mismanagement of the Whitby Harbour affair – as challenged by Mr James CORRIGAN in Public Question Time at the Extraordinary Meeting of Full Council last Friday 23rd July 2021. Would you like to see documentary evidence of perjury or contempt of court? You have only to ask. Would you like to watch an excerpt from the BBC Inside Out documentary which exposes the duplicity (some would say lies) of your Monitoring Officer?
Let me remind you that, notwithstanding your “vexatious” policy, my right (and duty) to hold you to account is no less than that of any other elector whom you have been elected to represent. It is absolute.
On 19th July 2019, shortly after being appointed to a Cabinet Portfolio in your first administration (Cabinet-Lite), Councillor RANDERSON stated:
“As an elected member it is my wish that irrespective of this Policy and Procedure that I still receive ANY correspondence from residents of this Borough and determine when and if I decide not to continue receiving such.”
Notwithstanding the foregoing, I am not alone in discovering that emails to Councillor RANDERSON from some members of the public reach him only via his private email address. Councillor RANDERSON’s “wish” has, of course, been disregarded by your Officers.
Has it never occurred to you that emails to Councillors may easily (but improperly) be withheld by Officers when the content evidences inappropriate or unlawful conduct on their part which, entirely from self-interest, they remain determined to suppress? Perhaps not; as a former Officer yourself, you may even be sympathetic to their anxieties.
Members of the public hoped for better things when, despite achieving so few seats in May 2019, you rose in Full Council to expound upon your vision for change:
Transcript available to download, here.
Amongst other promises, you assured us that:
“Anything ‘Not Fit for Purpose’ must be reformed”.
How those words of yours must now haunt you; it seems to me that your entire administration has been unfit for purpose.
Apparently, in your view, the “vexatious” policy – which is not authorised under RIPA but which is in direct contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR), the European Convention on Human Rights 1950/53 and the Human Rights Act 1998 – no longer “must be reformed”, once it served your own ‘protection’ from interested electors and “critical friends”.
And these words, too:
“I have a plan that delivers to the electorate and allows all Councillors in this Chamber to be part of decision making again.”
A “plan that delivers” – what exactly? “Openness and transparency” and “sharing and collaborative decision making” – for that was your claim?
Apparently not. Members have hustled in vain for sight of crucial Reports.
Please re-read the Transcript, and make an objective attempt to judge for yourself what a load of old codswallop you uttered. To simplify your task, I have highlighted the most blatant vacuities in navy blue cursive script.
By mid-July 2019, you had already stampeded members down the road of your ‘Highly Confidential – TOP SECRET’ flagship plan to ‘regenerate’ the former ARGOS building.
Your Director of Legal subsequently threatened members with the prospect of life imprisonment for ‘leaking’ the ‘Highly Confidential – TOP SECRET’ document to the Enquirer – according to the North Yorkshire Police, not even a criminal offence; rather a matter for the Standards Committee, which has never addressed it – why not? Whose interests are best served by burying it? Whose credibility would be severely damaged – perhaps terminally – by the Council dealing appropriately and properly with the culprit?
Do you truly believe that the public does not infer that the ‘leakster’ has been protected (though named on a widely-read public website – and unrebutted – for half a year), for fear, perhaps, that any residual credibility(!) your Cabinet retains would be undermined – just as it is undermined by the protection of a would-be murderer (also identified on the same public website)?
Yet you told us:
“I don’t want to buy anyone’s allegiance”.
“Because no Group has a majority, priority will be down to every member of this Council”.
That, no doubt, explains your affection for Leader’s Executive Decisions – especially those like your rash property purchases, recommended by Mr BRADLEY and signed-off by yourself and Councillor COULSON (thereby avoiding the risk of them being challenged by ‘call-in’ to Full Council – but all decisions would be “down to every member of this Council”, you claimed).
Are you aware that your Monitoring Officer (presently the subject of Solicitors’ Regulation Authority enquiries) is now conducting an ‘investigation’ into how it came about that ‘Confidential’ documents in relation to the purchase of the Shakespeare public house, previously denied to members were, after insistent representations from members, posted to the wrong recipients? In a word, your “openness and transparency” and commitment to “sharing and collaborative decision making”, shows itself to be utter poppycock – blather that is now placing an unnecessary burden on Officer-time and the public purse. And you and your ‘Senior Management Team’ have the effrontery to ‘deem’ me “vexatious”.
And did you not promise that:
“Ratepayers have to be assured that their hard-earned money is being put to effective use”?
How many “affordable, quality homes for rent and to buy, for our residents” could have been built with the money you squandered on your futile East/West Local Government Reorganisation bid – correctly flagged up as ‘doomed to failure’ by the Enquirer nearly a year ago?
InToon’s cartoon “Devo Castle” (20/08/20)
Cllr Carl LES [Con.] (NYCC) vanquishes Cllr SIDDONS’ East/West proposal
On one point, I can agree with you. You asserted that “scrutiny by critical friends makes Councils, efficient, effective, and transparent”. Yes, it does. Yet you have done everything in your ‘power’ to evade scrutiny. Small wonder that your administration is so far from being “efficient, effective, and transparent”.
You are savagely resentful of the scrutiny applied by contributors to the North Yorks Enquirer. Tough.
And I have been given to understand that you have expressed resentment and rancour that the BBC Look North presenter “did a hatchet job” on you – though you can hardly assert that, in doing so, she felled a sturdy oak. You crumpled like an autumn leaf. A major embrassment to us all.
And this not the first time that residents have branded you a “bloody idiot”.
Please remember, I am empowered under statute to share with you – and the wider public – my opinion of your Leadership, Steve.
It is this:
Irrespective of your various misguided capital projects, from a purely ethical and democratic perspective you have not “delivered”. You presented yourself as the prophet of a brave new ethos but your Leadership thus far has shown that either you have failed miserably to “deliver” on your populist rhetoric, or your professed aspirations were merely a phoney charade which, from the outset, you never intended to form any part of your program.
In two short years, you have shown yourself to be either a monumental hypocrite or a gullible, deluded and woefully inadequate local politician. You have mortified the residents and made a laughing-stock of the Leadership and the Council.
You have been duped, you say? Perhaps. The Whitby Harbour issue would suggest that you may have relied too heavily on your advisors. Are you unaware of the situation at Warrington Borough Council? Is there a pattern here?
In summation, you have made a complete “dog’s dinner” (to use your own phrase) of improving Scarborough Borough Council. You have not been “Building a Better Borough”; it is worse now, far worse, than ever it has been. Your promise of “real change” has come to nothing and, in my view – and that of many Councillors and former Councillors far more experienced than you – you are “Not Fit for Purpose”.
One task remains to you.
See to it. And without, please, the ignominy of a third and final Vote of No Confidence.