So, wither natural justice at York Council?

There can’t have been many more publicised processes than the persecution of two York LibDem Councillors over the last 3 years.

 It has provided a field day for speculation and prevarication.

It was perhaps inevitable that the process would end this week – not with a statement of innocence and an apology from senior officials – but with a by-line in a report at a low key routine meeting.

The claim against one councillor, finally exonerated this week, was that he leaked confidential information to the media. He was named by a disgruntled former employee who turned whistle blower. Although the journalists who received the confidential reports (one of which concerned irregular payments to contractors) know who their sources were, they have understandable ethical objections to revealing them.

 The only evidence offered therefore was circumstantial.

The words used by investigating officials suggest that it was a “case not proven”.

The burden should not be on the accused to prove their innocence.

Now Council information leaks in York are not unknown. For 30 years and more, Councillors have passed on information to journalists. Usually this has been to gain some political advantage. Almost invariably it has stemmed from deep frustration that the York Council is amongst the least transparent in the country.

And that is where reform is urgently needed.

The culture of secrecy needs to be swept away.  There will be some information, for example during tendering processes, where the interests of taxpayers need to be protected. But the assumption from now on should be that a matter will only be regarded as confidential in extreme circumstances.

A start could be made by opening up the weekly Staffing Matters & Urgency Committee to the press and public

The Council should go further and ask what information and performance stats residents and the media would wish to see added to the “open data” web site. That would go some way to respect for the authority, its officials and Councillors

As far as “The York 2” are concerned, they deserve to have their reputations restored. The Council should issue a media release immediately to that effect. The Council should also commission a public report on how investigations into allegations of misconduct will be handled in the future. We can see no reason why such investigations should not be resolved within 6 months of an allegation being made.

The two Councillors have suffered financial loss of earnings because of the decision by the then Council Leader to remove them from their jobs. In a just world they would be compensated for that loss.

In the meantime, both Councillors would be wise not to try to use social media to press their case.

Police confirm “nothing to investigate” decision on suspended Councillors

Cllrs Aspden and Carr

It will come as no surprise to most residents that the Police have decided that there is no case to answer following an allegation made by Council Leader Carr regarding the conduct of two Executive councillors (Aspden and Ayre).

He arbitrarily suspended them from their offices in September. The power he used was designed to give elected Leaders an opportunity to change Cabinet placements but – when a coalition existed – needed to be exercised with caution, tact and agreement.

His action was none of these.

His public claim that the allegations against the two Councillors were “serious” was highly prejudicial (and likely in most residents eyes to be viewed as untrue)

The Police decision will hopefully bring Cllr Carr’s resignation forward by a few weeks. A fresh start could then be made in time for the important budget Council meeting on 22nd February.

The Councils Standards Committee could now decide to extend the period of uncertainty which has descended on West Offices.

They already have had had the opportunity to consider a report produced by, what officials at the time claimed to be, an independent third party, into allegations linked to the leaking of “confidential”  information to residents. This, in turn, arose from a further confidential report into “contract” issues.

But the Standards Committee failed to use the autumn profitably to test the issues raised. Several members of that committee themselves have also issued public statements which could be regarded as prejudicial to the fair and impartial assessment of any allegations.

The water is further muddied by another report which the Council Leader has been pressurised to make public. It also referred to the actions of Councillors and officials at a stormy Audit committee meeting earlier in the year.

The Councils Chief Executive has been indecisive and  ineffectual in dealing with the issue. There is no obvious way forward.

However, what is clear is that there needs to be more transparency in the Council with all reports routinely published unless there are real, pressing and justifiable reasons not to do so.  





Concern over Illuminating York 20% price hike

Liberal Democrats have raised concerns that ticket prices for this year’s Illuminating York Festival have significantly increased despite the 2012 event being branded a “disappointment”.

Illuminating York 2013

Illuminating York 2013

The Labour run City of York Council introduced charging for the – previously free – event last year. There were complaints about the £5 admission charge while Vic Reeves’ ‘Wonderland’ production received a backlash of negative comments and poor reviews.

However, the admission charges and £26,000 contribution from council funds meant the event made a £16,000 ‘profit’ which Labour promised would be “invested in next year’s event”.

Many hoped that this promise would see a return to the previous free admissions policy.

However, this year’s event, which will runs from October 30th – November 2nd, sees admission charges for the overall festival for adults increase from £5 to £6 and for under 16s from £1 to £5, with under 5’s still going free.

This means that a family of four, with two school-age children, would see their ticket costs rise by a whopping 83%.

The increase has been described as contrary to the Labour Leaders statements about the need to control the cost of living