NYC Standards? Anything Goes!
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on North Yorkshire Council’s response to my Freedom of Information request, lodged via WhatDoTheyKnow.Com on 26th November 2023, following enquiries from a number of readers wishing to know the prospects of receiving a fair and just response to Formal Complaints to NYC regarding unacceptable conduct on the part of elected or co-opted mebers, whether of North Yorkshire Council or of Town & Parish Councils throughout North Yorkshire.
It has always been my experience, throughout the past fifteen years that, whilst there are many who are dissatisfied with the conduct of Councillors, few can find the time or inclination to pursue the tedious process of lodging a Formal Complaint.
Some feel that they lack the necessary knowledge of the process to draft a coherent and eligible Formal Complaint.
Some feel that members – in sharp contrast to Complainants – will generally have the benefit of access to free legal advice (whether from Council staff or Party officials) and it would therefore be fruitless to engage without incurring the considerable expense of hiring comparable ‘fire power’.
Many are so cynical as to believe that any and all allegations of wrongdoing will inevitably elicit nothing more or less than a ‘cover-up’.
Shortly after ‘vesting day’ – 1st April 2023, the day North Yorkshire Council came into existence – I raised some of these issues with the NYC Monitoring Officer Barry KHAN, in a personal meeting at County Hall, Northallerton.
(I should mention that I have known Barry for the better part of a decade; I like him and trust his integrity).
I pointed out to Barry that prior to the abolition of the seven North Yorkshire second-tier authorities (Districts and Boroughs), ‘Code of Conduct’ Complaints against members of those Councils, as well as ‘Code of Conduct’ Complaints against Town & Parish Councillors, were processed at that more local level. Few succeeded.
Thenceforth, ALL ‘Code of Conduct’ Complaints would arrive on Barry KHAN’s desk – and this may soon prove to be a significant administrative burden on the new Council, faced already with many serious issues (e.g. school closures, legal challenges to accountancy irregularities inherited from the seven second-tier authorities, disparities between the various Local Plans, etc – I could go on. And on…).
Barry assured me that nothwithstanding the massive increase in responsibilities, NYC would strive to accord due process to ALL ‘Code of Conduct’ Complaints.
On 26th November 2023, a good half-year into the new Council’s tenure, I decided to check on progress – hence my FOIA request, which was this:
Readers who trouble to access the request (and NYC’s response) will note that although the requested information was duly provided, two elements were provided in textual format, rather than in the table featured at the head of this article (which I have slightly modified to include the subtly occluded textual content).
The key information is that out of a total of 111 (one-hundred-and-eleven) ‘Code of Conduct’ Complaints, not a even single ONE has been UPHELD – or even been considered by the Council’s Standards & Governance Committee.
The key fact is that ALL 111 (barring three still in process – which I fully expect to go the same way) have been dismissed by Monitoring Officer Barry KHAN and the Independent Person.
To put the system to the test, I have lodged a ‘Code of Conduct’ Complaint against a Whitby Town Councillor whose conduct serially falls well outside of acceptable standards.
I shall report on the progress of this ‘Code of Conduct’ Complaint in due course. If it is not UPHELD, I shall present all of the evidence to the Court of Public Opinion. Let the people decide . . .
Meanwhile – another look at the record so far:
One of the great defining qualities of the North Yorks Enquirer is that it is always ready to ‘name and shame’ – without fear or favour – all those who regard the ineffectiveness of the Standards regime as a ‘license to sin’ . . .
You know who you are – and so do we.
And the public has a right to know. Count on it: we will never disappoint the public in this crucial respect.