YCBID: Truth Time
- an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, updating readers on some of the Questions posted before the SBC Audit Committee meets on Thursday 25th June 2020 regarding Finance Director Nick EDWARDS’ Report and Recommendations in respect of universally acknowledged inadequacies in the SBC Electoral Team’s conduct of the ballot process underpinning the incorporation of Yorkshire Coast BID Ltd.
(Questions to the Audit Committee)
Borough Councillors of every political persuasion, past and present, have been complaining of the appalling lack of openness and transparency in the manner in which the present Labour/Independent coalition is administering public affairs on behalf of its residents. In my view, it is a matter of the greatest public interest that actions leading up to the deliberations of the Audit Committee in respect of the Election Services Team’s fatally flawed ballot process should be aired in the public domain.
Below, readers will find some of the Questions sent in by various interested parties. Not all have received acknowledgement. Together, they paint a detailed picture of why public trust in the ballot process, and in the BID company, has evaporated to the extent that over three hundred businesses are adamantly refusing to pay the levy.
Answers to these Questions, if any are forthcoming, should be accessible to all – irrespective of whether the Committee sits in the Council Chamber under full view of the Public Gallery and the press, or in front of webcams and microphones for a ZOOM session, possibly available on the Scarborough Borough Council Youtube Channel, here (but one nevers knows).
By this time tomorrow, it should be clear to all whether or not some last shred of fairness, decency or integrity exists at Scarborough Borough Council. Cometh the moment, Councillor BACKHOUSE . . .
Questions to Elected Members
[Question numbers are unofficial and provided for readers’ convenience of reference only]
QUESTIONS – Granted that the SBC Elections Team acted in good faith in the matter of the ballot underpinning the incorporation of Yorkshire Coast BID Ltd, and without seeking to apportion blame, would members of the Audit Committee agree, given the innumerable shortcomings of the ballot process, as highlighted by (i) the Yorkshire Coast Levy Payers’ Association consultation/survey, (ii) Mr Peter STANYON (Chief Executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators) in his Report, (iii) solicitor Mr Gareth PINWELL (of ASHFORDS LLP) in his letter to the Council of 16th March 2020, and (iv) my good self, that there now remain only two honourable options, going forward, that can satisfy the requirements of fairness and good practice; namely:
1) conduct a fresh ballot which complies in every detail with the statutory requirements; or
2) terminate the BID arrangements, either under s.18, as set out below, or by whatsoever other means:
Termination of BID arrangements
18.—(1) The relevant billing authority may terminate BID arrangements where—
(a) in the opinion of the authority, the BID body will have insufficient finances to meet its liabilities for the current chargeable period and the authority has—
(i) offered the BID body a reasonable opportunity to arrange for financing the shortfall or for a reduction in the works or services under the BID arrangements which is sufficient to offset the shortfall; and
(ii) given those persons who are liable to the BID levy an opportunity, at a public meeting, to make representations in relation to the termination of the BID arrangements; or
(b) the authority is unable, due to any cause beyond the control of the authority, to provide works or services which are necessary for the BID to continue and the authority has—
(i) where there is a BID body, consulted the BID body and conducted a consultation with such representatives of the business community for the geographical area of the BID as the authority considers appropriate; and
(ii) where a local authority BID body is responsible for implementing the BID arrangements, conducted a consultationwith such representatives of the business community for the geographical area of the BID as the authority considers
I thank you for your consideration in this matter and rely on you to make a special point of reminding members of their obligations in respect of the declaration of disclosable interests.
[This Question was submitted by me, by email, at 11:19am on 6th June 2020. It was opened by SBC Democratic Services Manager Mr StJohn HARRIS on 8th June 2020 at 07:45am. Mr HARRIS has neither acknowledged nor responded to my email. My rights as an elector of the Borough of Scarborough have been breached and abused.]
The investigation report clearly shows there were many deficiencies in the ballot process. It does not answer why hundreds of businesses did not receive any information whatsoever. It is outrageous to suggest that hundreds of businesses “had thrown the ballot in the rubbish” there is no proof the ballot was even delivered and none that it was thrown away. The report raises many questions:
- Why was the conclusion of the investigation not released earlier. SBC could have easily announced the report has found some errors in process but the overall result wasn’t affected?
- The Council sought “clarification” from Mr Stanyon, what did the Council seek clarification on and what were the responses?
- The Stanyon Report at point 4.23 indicates that the Electoral Services Team suggested to SBC Management to delay the ballot by 15 days following the Redcar withdrawal. This didn’t happen and was a mistake (see Stanyon Report 5.3.3). Why did SBC Management override the recommendation of the Team who where engaged to run the ballot?
- Why did SBC take advice on running the ballot from Mosaic who where financially benefiting from a successful ballot? Surely this is a conflict of interests that should have been identified and addressed?
- Why were some electors contacted by an SBC officer if there was no vote cast but not all? Surely the Council has a duty to treat all voters equally. The Council were aware of 42 businesses whose ballot papers were returned “not delivered” why did not the Council contact these businesses? These actions were undemocratic.
- Mr Stanyon recommends the BID company “re-engage” with businesses. Will the Council now ensure the BID company removes all barriers to any businesses becoming automatic members with a vote and therefore allow open and transparent engagement?
- It is now established that the Council collects the levy on its own account and not on behalf of the BID company, in fact the Council contracts with the BID company to deliver “services” thus the BID company invoices for the services it delivers. The BID company have not delivered the services and appear to be in breach of contract?
- Please confirm that the Council accepts that it is acting as the Principal and the Yorkshire Coast BID Limited is the Council’s Agent?
- There was a clear risk to Council finances that the Levy may be repayable with no right of recourse to the Yorkshire Coast BID Limited. Why was there no report to full Council setting out the proposal to establish the BID and considering the risks, benefits and safeguards as would be the standard Council protocol can the Council provide a list (in value order) of the services to be delivered, with KPI’s and dates?
- Can the Council confirm what actions it is taking to ensure the BID company delivers the services to the required standards of quality, time, cost and value.
- Are members aware that of the 219 votes for the DBID 78 were on council properties – this ‘disproportionate effect’ meant that only 141 private sector businesses voted for this; 175 private sector businesses voted against it?
- The consultation survey conducted by businesses that prompted this investigation returned a result of 440 responses. Of those responses, only 10 businesses wanted the BID to continue in it’s current form. 46 wanted it to be remodelled. 389 wanted to terminate it altogether.
- In the case of Scarborough Council, there was no Full Council approval to make the decision to vote for this. Prior to the 2019 elections, the current Leader of Scarborough Council proposed and gained an agreement that there should be a full and robust discussion with business about the DBID before any agreements were signed. Were those agreements signed in secret the day before bills were despatched.
- The current Board of Directors comprises only 4 private sector businesses. The remainder is Councillors, national chains, and unelected Council Officers.
- It is hoped that members have read the solicitors letters sent in March (pre Covid) and in June.
- Your Officer’s recommendation, in March, was that you accept the findings of this investigation and that there is no ‘legal mechanism’ you can employ to terminate the BID and at least re-ballot.
- Even in March, there were over 300 businesses in Scarborough who either could not afford or weren’t prepared to pay into this scheme for the current year. In short, they saw no benefit to their business. This would have produced a shortfall in the funding for the BID even Pre-Covid.
Businesses have closed that will never re-open, businesses that will open will have lost fortunes and will take years to recover. How will councils pursue those payments for the next 4 years if this BID is allowed to continue?
The BID company has issued statements saying there is no legal mechanism they can employ to assist businesses. The very businesses they claim to be supporting.
The independent investigation refers, at paragraph 6.5, to the Council’s ability to terminate the BID arrangements, which apply in circumstances ‘where it considers that the BID body will have insufficient finances to meet its liabilities, or the authority is unable… to provide works or services which are necessary for the BID to continue’.
Our solicitor’s letters both give a very clear road map via Sections 17 and 18 of the BID regulations that will relieve that legal pressure and financial burden on both businesses and Councils and hopefully restore some trust.
I run 2 businesses in Whitby and I would like to register my opposition to the Y.C.B. levy. While you are considering this report, I would like to remind you that the report was instigated by Full Council and I think it’s only democratic that this is put to Full Council for debate and decisions, so that all elected representatives are given the chance to have input and represent their constituents.
- How did Janet Deacon know who had voted in favour BEFORE closing date?
- How did she know before who had not yet voted before closing date?
Question to Mr Peter STANYON, CEO of the Association of Electoral Administrators
Without going into finer details, you have highlighted a number of significant concerns about this process such as:
- The lack of experience of the Electoral Team and where concerns were highlighted those concerns were dismissed by management.
- The filtering of the lists.
- The inconsistent way ballot papers and notices were addressed. With a ‘disproportionate effect’ on properties belonging to local authorities.
- Ballot papers being addressed to the hereditament address with ‘Owner/Occupier’ in hundreds of cases. You say this was ‘incompatible’ with the ballot being administered in a consistent and fair manner.
- The lack of a clearly defined map. Which you describe as ‘surprising’ – our solicitor terms it ‘unlawful’ Ballot papers ( 41) and Notices of Ballot (62) were returned undelivered and left unattended.
- There were delays in paperwork. The withdrawal of Redcar and Cleveland from the process should you say have delayed the ballot process.
You conclude by adding that, in your view, ‘communication between the BID proposer and the businesses has been lacking throughout.
Putting the ‘Terms of Reference’ imposed on yourself to one side, and using your ‘own words’ as ‘being on the side of democracy’ –
Has democracy in the true spirit of the word been upheld here?