It is bizarre for a non-partisan community group to be dragged into the internal wrangling of a political party. When ERYC Council Leader Parnaby and his Group Officers effectively made association or support for Justice for Brid a breach of Conservative Party rules, so serious that sitting councillors were deselected even for a perceived involvement, we were damaged by their processes.
As reported in both The Yorkshire Post and The Hull Daily Mail the first stage of the Conservative Party’s investigation into the Council Leader’s attempted de-selection coup against councillors thought to have association with Justice for Brid, and not toeing the Parnaby line, has concluded.
IT HAS FOUND SERIOUS WRONGDOING;
- that inappropriate influence was applied by the Group Officers contrary to the rules of their Party,
- that the same Group Officers broke their own rules in effectively throwing the councillors, who suspended their Group membership, out of the Group, and
– that MP David Davis’s Association Chairman acted wrongly, breaching rules by voting twice in an election to ensure they were deselected.
The investigation, which attempts to close down the entire matter, but has yet to consider any of the false accusations and potentially libellous statements, including those made against Justice for Brid, concludes that they should all now ‘kiss and make up’.
The Conservative Party pride itself that its elections are run to the standards of Electoral Law. Despite this, the only action taken is against the injured parties, if the mistreated councillors do not rejoin the Group ‘for the sake if the Party’, they have been threatened with summary de-selection by Conservative Party Headquarters not signing-off their nomination papers. This is even if they are selected as the official candidates, and despite there being no Party rule requiring councillors to join their council group.
This threat is akin to a court finding domestic abuse, but instead of sentencing the abuser, ordering the victim to go back to their convicted partner to be a good spouse in the future.
It is a ludicrous and derisible response to the ‘guilty as charged’ verdict.
The Conservative Party is quick to define UKIP by the inappropriate actions of its members. It makes political capital over Labour’s selection-rigging in Falkirk, but faced with the same serious issues and abuses in the East Riding, the instinct is to cover-up and pretend there is nothing wrong. The kind of appalling double standard that so undermines politics today.
The Conservative cover-up has been going on for years in the North of England, with even the highest levels aware of what is going on. A Party that seeks an overall parliamentary majority in 2015 cannot afford to continue such pretence
It sends a message to the electorate that this is a Party willing to accept electoral malpractice, one willing to mislead the public and discard its own rules and principals to win elections at all cost.
If the Conservative Party prefer to support and endorse their elected representatives, officials and senior members who abuse positions to subvert democracy and abuse others, then, by the standards it applies to the opposition, that becomes what the Conservative Party stands for.
It is time for the moral cowards who so readily seek positions of power and influence within the Party to stop chasing honours and personal advancement and do their jobs properly. They need to start serving the membership and supporters whom they have tainted by their inactions, and must follow UKIP’s example of censuring and removing those who do wrong . Without doing so voters can have no confidence in the Conservative political brand or their candidates. The positions of the guilty East Riding Council Councillors and H&H Association officers should now be untenable.
The offenders can only survive if the National Conservative Party choose them over honest, decent Party members.
We will be watching and will report on the outcome.
The Conservative Group Officers found guilty are
Leader; Steven Parnaby, Beverley Rural Ward
Deputy Leader; Jonathan Owen, East Wolds and Coastal Ward
Secretary; Felicity Temple, Driffield and Rural Ward
Chief Whip; Bryan Pearson Beverley St Mary’s Ward
Jane Evison, East Wolds and Coastal Ward
Richard Burton, Bridlington Old Town Ward
Brian Skow, Mid-Holderness Ward
David Wincup, Haltemprice and Howden Association Chairman
Councillors who responded to the Justice for Brid scrutiny pledge have ensured that the next ERYC scrutiny review looks into regeneration projects.
We should now be given answers to some of the questions raised by the Council’s planning failures in Bridlington. After all, you can not review anything without acknowledging and understanding what has worked or gone wrong in the past.
Despite the knee-jerk sell-offs and back-of-fag-packet money-no-object smokescreen being put up to cover the failure of the AAP, even the Council apologists have to acknowledge that Bridlington regeneration has gone spectacularly wrong.
However we hear that senior officials are blocking any public participation and the review, which will not be recorded, is to be held behind closed doors, with the public firmly shut out. We also hear that the scope of the enquiry ( which has not been published) has been carefully controlled so as to prevent councillors from being able look too closely or to hold those responsible to account.
Scrutiny Committee meetings are public and we may with the indulgence of the Chairman have some limited involvement. Not so with scrutiny reviews.
The difference is that unlike committee meetings, Reviews can scrutinise ‘operational matters’ (things done by council officers). East Riding Council use these reviews to get round the legal requirement to allow Councillors to scrutinise in public what the officers get up to and the decisions they make.
A small panel, appointed by the Conservative Group leadership work directly with officers to produce a report, ( written by the officers) which is then presented to the council.
The full scrutiny committee, in this case Environment & Regeneration, publicly receives the report first, but cannot change a single word of it or ask the panel to revisit any part of the investigation.
In 2007 the Flood Review opened up the review process, insisting on holding its meetings in public on an evening when people could attend and allowing public participation. The Council decided that this format should be adopted for all future reviews.
There is no good reason for any Council to hold scrutiny meetings, reviews or working groups behind closed doors. To do so is contrary to the whole ethos of public scrutiny. Such secrecy is the province of those who seek to cover up what is unacceptable. In the case of the East Riding, this secrecy is contrary to what the council itself decided.
All scrutiny should be in the open. Meetings should be recorded and broadcast, residents should be allowed to attend and to participate by submitting questions.
We at Justice for Brid thank the councillors who got the Bridlington issues to scrutiny, even in this highly controlled and limited way. Given that senior officers and leading councillors treat J4B as a proscribed organisation for daring to seek truth and accountability, their support marks the growing dissatisfaction with the Council Leader. The message from his Conservative Group is that any perceived support for us is grounds to be thrown out of the Group and for de-selection by the Conservative Party.
Those standing up to this bullying most certainly deserve our gratitude. It is a mark of the corruption and perverse distortion of democracy under Cllr Parnaby’s regime at ERYC that we can not thank them by name without they suffer reprisals.
Sadly, secret scrutiny limited in its scope can not command public confidence. ERYC seems intent on retaining their title as the most closed and secretive council in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.
We call for all scrutiny to be in public.
Conservative Councillors Geraldine Mathieson and Lena Slater have not been approved to stand as Conservative candidates in 2015 by a ‘hand picked’ sub-committee of their Haltemprice & Howden Association.
This follows personal interventions from Cllr Parnaby and his Group Secretary Cllr Felicity Temple.
Writing on behalf of the Group Officers, in an official letters riddled with factual errors, Cllr Temple effectively argued that in representing their residents both Cllrs Mathieson and Slater had been disloyal to the Leader and the Council.
Along with fellow Cottingham councillor Ros Jump, they were accused of supporting an opposition amendment to the ERYC Local Plan – wrong, they voted with the rest of the Tories on that one. If there was ‘rebellion’ in the ranks, it was the previous vote at January’s Council meeting.
What the three did do then, in stark contrast to our own councillors, was to actually stand up for their Town Council which like Bridlington’s (and against Conservative DCLG Minister’s advice ) had part of its government funding grabbed to fill the ERYC coffers.
Looks like the Group Secretary doesn’t pay attention in Council despite being paid £11,697 (on top of her basic and Deputy Chairman’s allowance) in taxpayer’s money handed out by Cllr Parnaby to do his bidding.
Following Party rules to the letter, they gave their close involvement with Cottingham’s Neighbourhood Plan as reason to vote in the interests of their ward. Conservative Group rules normally allow this along with voting with their conscience but these basic and necessary rights have been striped from from ERYC Conservative Councilors by Cllr Parnaby and Temple’s unauthorised amendment to the party rules.
Cllr Mathieson had also appeared on photographs of the Justice for Bridlington demonstration last May, and she now stand accused of a dangerous liaison with a malevolent organisation.
Such news travels fast, so it didn’t take long for some who had seen the letter to tell us that attending a residents’ meeting in a public space had been deemed grounds by the Leader for a well-respected and hard-working councillor to be considered unfit to represent the Conservative Party.
The Conservatives made great play of the undue influence that Unions had over the Labour selection process in Falkirk. They will now have to deal with their own clearly unfit selection process which many members say is charter for cronyism and corruption.
They have been proven right, we now know that to be selected as Conservative Party candidate in the East Riding of Yorkshire you must not serve your electorate nor serve your Party, but you must instead serve Leader Parnaby and his associates with absolute and unquestioning loyally – even if this is not in the interests of those who elected you or is against your own conscience.
This explains why our Conservative Councillors in Bridlington are so often wanting when it comes to representing our town or even the party they use to get elected – the simple truth is they don’t.
An small item, showing up only in a chart covering terms of reference and buried in the 256 page report, submitted to councillors at the East Riding of Yorkshire Council Overview Management Committee on 27th February effectively removes the ability of back bench Councillors to scrutinise the internal proceedings of the Council.
The hasty 2010 restructuring of scrutiny apparently left no room to examine much more than the work of external bodies. This was despite a two-year working group involving all backbench Conservative councillors, reviewing and strengthening the scrutiny process, but the resultant report was not even presented to the Group. Instead the new structure was devised and presented fait accompli by the Group Leader.
The internal machinations of political groups are not normally a matter for public accountability, but where a council leader decides how he can be held to account, what can be scrutinised and how, this becomes so unacceptable that crosses the line.
It was bad enough that ERYC chose to ‘interpret’ legislation such as to prevent scrutiny committee members from discussing any ‘operational matters’. This effectively means the actions of officers can not be challenged, and any decision made by them can not be ‘called in ‘ for review. How would you feel if our MP was banned from questioning the actions of civil servants?
It gets worse. The Scrutiny chairman and committee members who hold the Leader to account are chosen by the Leader himself.
This is dressed up as a Group recommendation to Council but in the ERYC Conservative Group, committee places are all decided by the Leader and presented to the Group – there is no questioning or debate allowed. Publicly-funded ‘special responsibility allowances’ amounting to £262,125. per year (£68,000 for scrutiny alone) are handed out by the Leader to reward loyalty to his regime rather than ability. An astonishing 67.3% of the Conservatives being handed a payment by the leader. ( 69.2% if you include the Fire Authority payments also in the gift of the Leader) Complaints from anyone not rewarded are dismissed as ‘sour grapes’. This payroll vote has to be very loyal indeed: those who dare to do their job of scrutinising the Council or holding the Cabinet to account are sacked. A shameful silence, and complicity results at our expense.
Not that it matters. Scrutiny at ERYC has no teeth; the officers have effectively extracted those with another handy ‘interpretation’ of the rules. Each time the Council meets they approve and adopt the minutes of Cabinet. If a recommendation is not challenged, it is accepted and becomes the decision of the Council. Similarly the Cabinet receives the minutes of Scrutiny committees and have a chance to challenge the recommendations. In this way, any decisions made by, or passed through Cabinet, even those buried deep in the minutes, are approved and given full legal force. However, officers insist that Scrutiny recommendations are merely ‘noted’ and have no standing whatsoever. A very convenient neutering of the democratic process.
These subtle perversions make ERYC scrutiny worse than pointless, and as we saw with recent Bridlington Hilderthorpe Road petition,
the public can not have confidence in the process.
The Council’s argument is that the legal requirements are met, not through the committees, but by the Review Panels. They can afford to allow the members this scrap as the reports (with the exception of the flood review) are written by the officers and approved by the directors before being released. Exactly which Conservative councillors can serve on Review Panels is tightly controlled by the Group leadership, favouring those who are unable to tell the difference between activity and achievement.
Then we have the farce of the annual work programme. The matters to be scrutinised are discussed, and sensitive issues subtlety dropped or amended. The work programme is then ‘full’ and so members can not get urgent topical matters on the agenda.
There are a few simple things which can be done and must be done by any council to achieve genuine scrutiny.
- They must adopt the changes made in Parliament to set up select committees. The Leader, Cabinet and political groups must be removed from influence. Back-bench councillors must choose the committee members in a secret ballot and the committees must chose its own chairmen, again by secret ballot
- Scrutiny committees must be free to scrutinise any aspect of the function of the council and call in decisions made by directors.
- Scrutiny recommendations should be approved and adopted by Council as decisions and policy of the Council in the same way as Cabinet decisions.
These measures were all included in the blocked report. Scrutiny is there to ensure decisions are well made and that the Council’s processes are fair, open and accountable. It is only extremely weak or corrupt leadership that allows the process to be debased.
Mr. Pickles has allowed us all to film council meetings, yet ERYC is still resistant and obviously don’t want us seeing what is going on. Every public meeting still starts with the Chairman reading a statement of policy banning any recording.
Scrutiny members will be monitored. They can no longer get away with poor performance, falling asleep, drifting into anecdotes of events long ago or simply going through the process by reading questions written for them by officers.
If Scrutiny Chairmen paid by us are not doing the job, but serving their paymaster, then they can expect to be held to account by groups like Justice for Brid, and their performance published online for all to see.
Perhaps that is why ERYC are about to remove scrutiny of the Council itself from the agenda.
See our post on the cabinate’s decision http://wp.me/p3FF93-3E
If abusive personal attacks by the Council Leader and his Deputy did not cross the line, the latest stunts from the Conservative Group at County Hall certainly do.
We can now reveal that they have attempted to silence Justice for Brid and are trying to deselect councillors suspected supporting us.
Political parties have hierarchical structures and disciplinary procedures and as such the Regional Chairman for Yorkshire, who is also a Party Board member received an official complaint from the ERYC Conservative Group against Geoff Pickering (who then held a senior position in the Party) regarding his involvement with Justice For Brid.
The charge, which was liberally interspersed with abusive and libellous comment, was that J4B was speaking out against Conservative (Group) policy, causing problems for Conservative councillors, reducing their chances of elected at the next election. This was a carefully crafted complaint with at least two charges that can lead to expulsion from the Party.
Geoff was asked to attend a meeting to explain his actions, and although exonerated, was given some ‘advice’. This was effectively saying it is incompatible for anyone holding an elected voluntary position in the Conservative Party to engage in any activity that highlights incompetence or failures of any Conservative-led council or Conservative councillor. Also that all elected officials of the Party should avoid bringing attention to wrong-doing within the Party, to ensure the electoral success of those councillors who may be embarrassed or electorally disadvantaged by public scrutiny of their actions.
Geoff will continue to contribute to Justice for Brid, and has ensured he is free to speak out without party political interference.
It has also been revealed by members of the Councillor Selection Panel in David Davis’ Association that similar charges have been raised by the ERYC Conservative Group against councillors thought to support our campaign, and that they were ( in the presence of Group Leader Cllr Parnaby ) questioned on their involvement with Justice for Brid as grounds for de-selection. We are told that sitting councillors have been suspended from the list of candidates.
Cllr Nick Evans recently resigned from the Group, citing bullying and intimidation – something we at Justice for Brid have experienced first hand.
Conservative Party Board members, although well aware of what is going on, have so far failed to act and this looks like escalating into a fiasco to parallel the Labour Party selection woes in Falkirk.
It has since come to light that these formal ‘Group’ complaints were nothing of the sort. They were not known of, or sanctioned by, all the Conservative councillors, but was simply the Group Secretary passing off the grievances of a few senior members as if from them all. You can imagine why, a complaint from 53 councillors is a serious matter indeed.
The Group Secretary, Cllr Felicity Temple, receives a taxpayer-funded Special Responsibility Allowance of £11,697.00 on top of her other allowances in order to do this job. The East Riding is one of only two councils across the whole of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire to make public-funded payments for political Group Secretaries.
ERYC Cabinet which includes four Bridlington councillors ( Cllrs Chadwick, Harrap, Burton and Matthews) has voted to strip Bridlington Town Council of £35,000 given by government to pass on to town and councils to compensate for changes to Council tax benefits.
When the ERYC Cabinet made their decision about which town council got a slice of the government support money, they only considered three options. All of them were based on a new criteria of whether or not that town or parish had increased or decrease their taxes in the previous year
The bean-counters produced tables to show the winners and losers for the 3 options. Option 1 best reflected the stated aim of rewarding those who’d used the money to reduce their tax, and would have supported Bridlington who did just that. However that penalised Withernsea, which was named as the worst affected by the new method of calculating the Tax Base.
That begs the question, how was each town affected by the change? The answer was buried in the Cabinet documents, and needed some calculations to show it.
So what has changed?
Previously, the town council set their part of the council tax called Precept and this is all collected via ERYC, either directly from residents or from central government payment where the householder was claiming Council Tax Benefit. In the new system, government pays a smaller amount to ERYC to cover benefits, and also reduced the benefits to some people. As you can imagine, places like Brid being designated an area of deprivation has plenty of poorer pensioners, seasonal workers and other people who got Council Tax Benefit.
Council Tax is charged at different rates, so a Band H mansion costs more than twice the tax on a Band A flat. Whether an unemployed person or pensioner lives in a cheap flat or a mansion makes the sums difficult to compare between towns, so the bean-counters standardise it by calculating the ‘Tax Base’. The Tax Base is the number of houses all paying at the average Band D rate that you would need to raise the same amount of money as all the different ones you really have.
The only change to Brid Town Council is the ways the bills are calculated. Pensioners were protected by government so that if they’re on a low income they don’t pay any council tax at all. Where the government used to pay it for them, now it is taken out of the calculation altogether . Now everyone else in town now pays the shortfall
Tax Base before the change can be calculated from he Precept and Tax figures for past years and compare it with the new figures listed in the Cabinet documents. Comparing those towns with a tax base over 2500, and how much each would get under the Cabinet’s options, looks like this:
What this shows is that yes, Withernsea is the worst affected. But it also shows that Bridlington is not far behind
There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. If you don’t ask for the right statistics, how can you make the right decision? How many of the four Bridlington Cabinet Members knew that their town was this badly affected by the change in tax base calculation when they voted against supporting the Town Council?
Cllr Chadwick should have done it is her portfolio.