Labour Councillors Investigated
Alderman NORMAN MURPHY sets out to explain the external investigations commissioned by SBC in response to multiple allegations of breaches of the Councillors Code of Conduct, the Seven NOLAN Principles of Public Life and the Localism Act 2011.
Although most residents/ratepayers will be unaware, “openness and transparency” is being, as usual, scrupulously observed at SBC (i.e. everything hidden from public view for as long as possible), you might be interested to know that the so-called Leader of SBC, Labour’s Steve (“It’s a Dog’s Breakfast”) Siddons, and four of his Labour cronies, are currently being investigated by an outside investigator for serious breaches of the Council’s Code of Conduct.
The stench of corruption and scandal is never far away from the Siddons administration. Anyway, more on that later.
This particular scandal, the latest in the ever-growing list of scandals engulfing this disgraceful administration, relates to the actions of four Labour members of the planning committee and an LEADER’S URGENT DECISION, made by Steve (It’s a Dog’s Breakfast”) Siddons.
The four Labour members of the Planning Committee, Chairman Shubash Sharma (Labour) (Newby) Rich Maw (Labour) (Weaponess and Ramshill) Theresa (‘Gluey’) Norton (Labour) (Eastfield) and a Whitby member who nobody has ever heard of, also Labour, are all accused of failing to declare an interest in the planning application relating to the Council’s decision to acquire and demolish a property in St Helens Square, Scarborough.
This property, flat 1A St Helens Square, which at the time belonged to former Labour Councillor Paul Cross, who, incidentally, was also a former chairman of the local Labour Group, was the subject of a planning application made by the Council (Siddons) to create a micro Town Square in St Helens Square, which required the acquisition of Cross’s flat.
Now it should be made clear here that, according to the Council’s own Code of Conduct, reproduced here for ease of reading, at PART 5.1 MEMBERS’ CODE OF CONDUCT SBC, members are informed that:
“You have a personal interest in any business of the Council where it relates to or is likely to affect one of whose principle purposes includes the influence of public opinion or policy (including any political party or trade union); of which you are a member or (are) in a position of general control or management.”
Furthermore, the Model Code of Conduct “An Explanatory Leaflet Relating to Personal and Prejudicial Interests”, confirms that:
“Your personal interest will also be a prejudicial interest if all of the following conditions are met –
(1) The matter being discussed affects your financial position or that of any person with whom you have a personal interest.
(2) Where a member of the public who knows the relevant facts would reasonably think your personal interest is so significant that it may prejudice your judgement.”
Put simply, if you are associated with a political group, and a member of that political group is the subject of a Council decision in which you can vote, you have to declare an interest. Indeed, you have to declare an interest even if a member of the public might only think “your personal interest is so significant that it may prejudice your judgement”.
So what did our sneaky Labour members do to breach the members’ Code of Conduct?
Well, again, put simply, although all the four Labour members of the Planning Committee would almost certainly have known that Paul Cross was a member of the local Labour Party (indeed, Sharma had already confirmed this by actually declaring at a previous Planning meeting that he knew Paul Cross), they all failed to declare that they had any knowledge of Paul Cross.
Moreover, having failed to declare that they had any association with Cross, they then went on to vote to accept the micro Town Square application which, in turn, would require the Council to purchase flat 1A St Helens Square, the property owned by Labour Party member, and former chairman of the local Labour Group, Paul Cross.
Getting the whiff of corruption? Yes. Me too. But the stench gets stronger so I would go and get a peg now.
Having passed the planning application there now existed the requirement for the Council (Siddons) to actually purchase flat 1 A St Helens Square from fellow Labour Party member Paul Cross.
However, there was, in theory at least, no hurry to make the purchase as the Town Square scheme had been sat on a Town Hall shelf for nearly 20 years and there was no queue of punters eagerly clambering to get their hands on our Paul’s rather dilapidated flat.
Now at this point it is, perhaps, informative for readers to understand that there exists a fairly standard procedure that a Council needs to go through when purchasing a property, you know the sort of thing, public money, “openness and transparency” and all that claptrap. Tiresome rules and regulations; who needs ‘em? Not Siddons, it seems.
Anyway, what usually happens is that two local estate agents are contacted. They then separately value the property, and come up with a realistic valuation. In this case, had this happened, the valuation (according to Zoopla – other valuation sites are available) would have been approximately £48k.
Not that the prospective seller would have got £48k, as this sale would in effect be a compulsory purchase. In these circumstances, sellers usually get about 10 to 15 % less than market value for their properties, so purchasing our Paul’s flat would have stood us, the ratepayers, at about £43k.
Now, as has been pointed out, there was actually no rush to purchase our Paul’s flat, so there was no problem in going through the normal ‘two valuations’ procedure – you know, to make sure that we, the “little people” (as it is widely rumoured Siddons calls us), would get value for money.
However, for some reason, I leave you fellow ratepayers to arrive at your own reason, Steve (It’s a Dog’s Breakfast”) Siddons, decided that the purchase of our Pauls flat was so desperately urgent that he made it the subject of an LEADER’S URGENT DECISION.
Consequently, just eight days after the Planning Committee had passed the town square proposal, Steve (“It’s a Dog’s Breakfast”) Siddons, ordered that the Council, you and me in fact, should purchase our Paul’s flat.
However, as mentioned, the purchase was made via an LEADER’S URGENT DECISION, which meant that all the details of the transaction would be kept secret. You, my fellow ratepayers, were not to be told how much you had paid for our Paul’s flat.
That piece of rather delicate information was not, under any circumstances, to be released into the public domain. Can’t have the “little people” knowing what the glorious Leader is doing with their money – now, can we?
Nonetheless, despite Siddons’ best efforts to keep the transaction secret, the actual price you paid for the grubby little flat you now own, soon escaped into the public domain, and it was, in fact, not £43k but £108k.
Allowing our Paul, long-time Labour Party member and colleague of Labour Party member Steve (“It’s a Luxury Dog’s Breakfast”) Siddons to trouser about £65k more than the property was actually worth.
Now as might be expected, quite a few residents, myself included, felt that the Labour members of the Planning Committee were bang out of order for not declaring an interest, that the price the Council had paid for Cross’s flat was grossly excessive and that the secrecy surrounding the deal stank to high heaven.
This being the case, several members of the public, and some elected members, put in Standards Complaints against the behaviour of these five Labour members to SBCs Monitoring Officer, Lisa Dixon. Now I don’t think anyone expected to get much joy from Ms Dixon. She has, after all, consistently backed Siddons and the crazy gang right from the very start of the administration.
Indeed, I certainly fully expected that the whole Complaint would be chucked out by Dixon and the Independent Person, and the five Labour Councillors involved would be declared whiter than white and that there would be, as usual, no case to answer.
But nay, and thrice nay. Lo’ and behold, it seems that this time the total disregard for the members Code of Conduct, consistently shown by Siddons and the Officers, was so blatant that Dixon had no choice but to act.
And, amazingly, Dixon appointed an outside investigator to review the evidence, who would, so it is claimed, bring in an independent judgement.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I fully expect, as usual, that the whole matter will eventually be swept under the Town Hall carpet.
However, it is interesting to note that, as the new Unitary Council elections approach, could it be that Dixon’s rather unusually proactive approach to the complaints against these five Labour members indicates that the first rats are starting to desert the floundering ship?
Is the very fact that Dixon is at least taking these gross breaches of the members Code of Conduct seriously an indication that ranks are beginning to break?
Well, of course, only time will tell and a Not Guilty verdict is still, as I see it, the most likely outcome of the investigation.
However, you never know. The Officers might yet throw Siddons and his cronies under the bus. When Officers want to save their skins nobody is safe.
So if it comes to a choice between saving themselves or Siddons, I know where I would place my bet; and it would not be on them saving Siddons.
Good job there are plenty of flights to TUSCANY, as someone might need one rather quickly if the Wolves do turn up at the Town Hall’s door.
Anyway whichever way the investigation goes my guess is that pretty soon it will be “arrivederchi suckers”.