“Me Too!” – an independent investigation?

Whitby --> Featured --> “Me Too!” – an independent investigation?

“Me Too!” – an independent investigation?

“Me Too!” – an independent investigation?

  • an ‘In My View’ article by Nigel Ward, examining the case for a truly independent investigation into allegations of fraud and forgery during the roll-out of the “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme intended to provide extra-curricular learning-experiences to deprived school-children.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST

As the County election approached, there was a flurry of interest in the circumstances surrounding the suspension of the Extended Schools “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme, following the publication of our NYCC Election Preview on County and Borough Councillor Joe PLANT which subsequently spawned a spin-off article entitled “NYCC, Joe Plant, Mini Monsterz and £113,000”.

The article attracted numerous comments demanding an explanation from County Councillor Joe PLANT – also a Scarborough Borough Councillor and a double-dipper.

In point of fact, Councillor Joe PLANT has already made a statement – in fact, two statements.

Firstly, it should not be forgotten that County Councillor Joe PLANT declared an interest in the “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme at a meeting at County Hall on 16th February 2011, within a matter of weeks of the abuses of the “Me Too!” Scheme becoming widely-known amongst the Whitby public. The Minutes of that meeting confirm as much, in the following words (some highlighted in bold, for later reference):

“Cllr Plant: I have given a question for Councillor Watson, before I ask it I want to declare a personal interest my son is married to a provider of Me Too.

The scheme was launched last year and went down well in the Whitby area and is aimed at underprivileged children. It has increased the take up of free school meals and activities they would not have gone to in the first place. It started off well, but I want to ask Councillor Watson to investigate problems of the Me Too scheme as it operates in Whitby area it is apparent that some providers have not been paid since last summer and they have been told there is not enough money in the pot to pay and they are suspended. The scheme continues. Allegations that vouchers are being handed out to people not entitled to them. One particular case is a millionaire in the Whitby area and they have changed hands for money. Please investigate as a matter of urgency because the scheme is being abused.”

Noteworthy is the fact that, notwithstanding the opening sentence, Councillor PLANT neglected to mention that the interest he only now wished to declare had, in fact, existed for well over a year – since (at the latest) November 2009, and this Declaration itself confirms Councillor PLANT’s failure to declare a disclosable interest throughout the whole of that period.

Noteworthy, too, is the fact that Mr Tony MOK, headmaster of East Whitby Primary School had made reference, in the public domain, to fraudulent activity – almost four weeks earlier on 21st January 2011.

But now let us compare Councillor PLANT’s Declaration with the account he offered to me, in an email of 2nd April 2011 – just six weeks after his formal Declaration:

On the advise[sic] of the NYCC legal officer I did declare a personal interest when I brought concerns about the scheme to the council’s attention.  I am really concerned how the ME TOO voucher scheme is being run in Whitby. The scheme is aimed for families on free school meals and benefits, it started off very well, now it is really, really silly. Families on big wages get them, and this is how silly it is, a millionaire lottery winner gets them. Vouchers are photo copied, forged and even sold on to other people. This info is from people on the street how true it is, i do not know.  But I know that the whole scheme has lost its meaning. The losers are and will be the families that need them.

I also brought to the attention of the council that some providers were not being paid as the rumour was there was not enough money in the pot, one of which was the provider that my son is married into the family. This is because all of the providers knew I helped to promote the scheme.  The advice I got from an officer was to tell providers who had problems to get in touch with the college as they are the administrators.”

Councillor PLANT has referred to his 16th February 2011 Declaration, thereby re-iterating his personal interest, and re-iterating his reference to the Whitby millionaire Lottery-winner who allegedly took advantage of the free “Me Too!” Vouchers.

But he has also provided information conspicuous by its absence from his official Declaration. I have highlighted in bold significant elements; let me now bullet-point what we may draw:

  • Councillor PLANT’s Declaration was fourteen months late, having been delivered only at the urging of an (unidentified) NYCC “legal officer”.
  • Councillor PLANT now amends the allegations he made in his formal Declaration, stating that they were “from people on the street how true it is I don’t know” – i.e. mere hearsay.
  • Councillor PLANT refers, for the first time, to criminality – i.e. forgery and fraud.
  • Councillor PLANT refers to having “brought to the attention of the council” the outstanding invoices of providers – including the business in which he had a duty to declare a personal interest (but did not – for fourteen months, plus), namely. Esk Leisure, i.e. Mini Monsterz, in Ruswarp, which is not situated in Councillor PLANT’s division – Whitby Streonshalh).
  • Councillor PLANT now corrects his omission, in his formal Declaration, that one of the as-yet unpaid providers was the one in which he held a disclosable personal interest.

So, by referring only to the public record and County Councillor Joe PLANT’s own words, it is absolutely clear, at least in my view, that he admits having solicited settlement by NYCC of an invoice from Esk Leisure / Mini Monsterz, a provider in a division in which he had no authority to act, and in respect of whom he held a disclosable but long undeclared personal interest.

We now know that that payment was suspended until a partial settlement was made, in December 2012, in the sum of £113,822.25.

This is a timely moment to cite just a single paragraph from a very long email to me from a member of the public (dated 4th April 2011 – just two days after Councillor PLANT’s email to me, quoted above):

“One voucher could access loads of different things; two weeks with interactive, horse riding courses, a block of 10 swimming lessons, any piece of pottery to paint, soccer school, and in Scarborough, a whole years pass to the swimming pool! Total madness – all with just one voucher!”

Any piece of pottery.

A completely independent informant has confirmed that his whole family (he, his wife and two children) witnessed an operative of the provider in question vigorously dissuade an unaccompanied child from painting the pot of his choice (coffee-mug sized) in favour of a very large specimen – bearing a price-tag of almost £100.

Yet according to the Mini Monsterz web-site, pottery painting at the Ruswarp branch starts at £3.99 per item (no studio fee).

  • £113,822 = 28,527 pots.

It is easy to appreciate why the “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme has been described as “a licence to print money”.

At this point, I would like to remind readers that Councillor PLANT was one of eleven Scarborough Borough Councillors who took the opportunity to respond to my ‘Transparency Questionnaire’ of September 2010, in which I asked all of the SBC Councillors if they upheld the Prime Minister’s call for transparency in local government.

Councillor PLANT’s response reads:

  • “Nigel.  Like I have always done  I DO uphold the PM’s statement calling for transparency.  But to clarify I stick within the code of conduct.  Joe – Cllr Joe Plant”

In my view, Councillor PLANT’s refusal to provide answers to the many questions arising from his rôle in the “Me Too!” affair shows him to be very far from “upholding transparency”.

His failure to declare a personal interest contingent upon his relationship, through his son, to the provider who would appear to have made the most of the privilege of provider-status seems to me to be very far from “stick(ing) within the code of conduct”.

On 14th May 2011, I emailed the Leader of NYCC, County Councillor John WEIGHELL. Within that rather lengthy email, I included the following:

“After profound deliberation, and being acutely aware of the exceptional level of public interest, a human being has seen fit to share with me the following information, adjuring me to regard it with the same gravity as would pertain in the case of a sworn affidavit:

“In a meeting of School Governors, the information was shared with those present that a single ‘provider’ in the Extended Schools ‘Me Too!’ voucher scheme had submitted an invoice (or invoices) in a sum exceeding £100,000 (one hundred thousand pounds), with the result that the Audit Committee of NYCC had determined to pursue an investigation on suspicion of foul play.”

Strangely, Councillor WEIGHELL has not responded to that email – or even provided any acknowledgment of receipt. Almost two years has elapsed.

The conclusion that I believe every right-thinking reader will adopt is that the actions of County Councillor Joe PLANT merit diligent and impartial investigation by a body more independent of the Council than Veritau Ltd (a company not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 that is jointly owned by York City and North Yorkshire County Council), who prepared the existing report – and more specialised than the skills or the remit of the rural beat-bobby of the NYP, to whom the report was finally submitted.

Stranger still is the email that I have received, on 29th April 2013, from NYCC Chief Exec Richard FLINTON, in which he states:

“I note that you say that you reserve the right to publish information as you please, you will also need to be mindful of the need to be factually accurate in doing so particularly given that in the election period, anyone who makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct will commit and[sic] offence.”

As a human being, I am fallible; I can (and do) make mistakes. And certainly I would not wish to stand accused of publishing false information – either during Purdah, or at any other time.

So I have emailed Richard FLINTON, attaching the draft of this article, asking him to state clearly whether or not he discerns any factual errors, so that I may benefit from his wisdom by correcting, where necessary, any such errors, prior to publication. I have also offered Richard FLINTON an opportunity to comment, if he so wishes.

I have, of course, received a response from Richard FLINTON. And (equally ‘of course’) it does not provide a statement for publication. Nor does it offer the public any explanation of, or apology for, the extraordinary laxity of control in the design of the “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme, or for the disgraceful pillaging of the system. Richard FLINTON has expressed no contention with the factual accuracy of this article; and he has offered no word of support for, or confidence in, County Councillor Joe PLANT.

As I wrote in my reply to Richard FLINTON:

  • “So much for the seventh Nolan Principle”

The seventh  Nolan Principle is:

Leadership – Holders of public office should promote and support these principles [the seven Nolan Principles] by leadership and example.

Indeed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Related reading:

All “Me Too!” articles

MUGSHOT_JPLANT

About the Author:

Website Admin for the Real Whitby Website. All authors of the Real Whitby Website have access to publish on the website. Individual authors will usually sign off their articles with their own names.

17 Comments

  1. Real Whitby Webmaster May 2, 2013 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    Nigel, Is this summary right or wrong ??

    1. Joe Plant never declared an interest in the me too voucher scheme that he facilitated (namely his sons marriage to a family member of a provider namely Mini Monsterz) for well over a year whilst the Me Too Project ran ?

    2. Mini Monsterz put in a very large claim to the me too fund well in excess of £100 000 and were told they wouldn’t be paid out because the scheme was out of money ??

    3. Joe Plant chased up the £100,000 pound on behalf of mini monsterz. In doing so breaking council policy because Mini Monsterz was not in his ward ??

    4. Mini Monsterz were paid £113,000 by NYCC who are happy there has been no wrongdoing ??

    5. The public are expected to believe that nothing untoward has occurred ?

    Please feel free to correct me on any point, but please don’t confuse me by prevaricating about the bush. Keep it concise and in terms an idiot can understand.

    • Nigel Ward May 2, 2013 at 11:05 pm - Reply

      Glenn, it is all in the article.

      Re your questions:

      2) I have no idea what MM were told. The scheme was suspended for the reasons reported by Tony Mok (and others).

      4) I do not believe that NYCC were happy that there was no wrongdoing. They did pass it to a rural beat PC. Presumably not for his entertainment. More likely it was because I was hassling them for the truth.

      5) I do not imagine for one moment that they expect the public to believe that no wrongdoing occurred. Do you? But I am sure that they have done their utmost to keep it under wraps as much as possible. The Monitoring Officer cannot conceivably have believed that all was in order.

      Regarding your following post:

      The witness has had other experiences of the Councillor in question; that is why it was reported to me. It is often the case that witnesses recognise all too well that something very wrong has gone down but are too intimidated by ‘authority’ to follow through. I have reports of such intimidation, too.

      • Real Whitby Webmaster May 2, 2013 at 11:39 pm - Reply

        I know its in the article Nigel, but often I get lost in the article. I need a simpletons article. When I see it written like this, on a personal basis, I just wonder why no-one has kicked up a right stink. It looks like illegal things have gone on. Obviously Im no solicitor but I do want to know what has gone on here, I dont believe all is well and we should just leave it at that. How did they get to the sum of £113,000. What was the next biggest claim submitted ? Do we have a top 10 list of payments ? Who got what ? How Much did Scarborough Borough Council get ? Did anyone else come close to £100,000, does Joe Plant realize that all NYCC staff have been forced to take new contracts including unpaid leave in order to save the council money ? Does he relaise that NYCC staff are on a 4 year pay freeze at a time when living expenses are going through the roof ? That £113,000 would have come in useful in these times of austerity, is it right that council money was paid to a millionaires children whilst low paid nycc families are struggling to make ends meet. Instead of saying “Go to the police”, should Joe not be giving answers to these questions.

  2. Real Whitby Webmaster May 2, 2013 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    A completely independent informant has confirmed that his whole family (he, his wife and two children) witnessed an operative of the provider in question vigorously dissuade an unaccompanied child from painting the pot of his choice (coffee-mug sized) in favour of a very large specimen – bearing a price-tag of almost £100.

    Did this person report this to Joe Plant ? Did they report what they saw to the council ? Did they report it to the police. What they are alleging has to be illegal, surely ?? Or have I got that wrong ?

    NYCC statement in the gazette says mistakes were made. This is not a mistake, its a massive blunder, possibly even a crime.

  3. kathleen parker May 2, 2013 at 11:12 pm - Reply

    Joe Plant needs to speak out and explain what the hell went on! Surely we have a right to know? And I would have liked to have seen how much Esk Leisure claimed if the Council were running out of money,Esk Leisure had to settle for £113.000! Nah it stinks of corruption.

  4. Rupert Ferguson May 3, 2013 at 2:13 am - Reply

    Say no to Joe!

  5. James Miller May 3, 2013 at 5:07 am - Reply

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act III, scene II, where it is spoken by Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother. The phrase has come to mean that one can insist so passionately about something not being true that people suspect the opposite of what one is saying. This usage of the phrase is based on a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word “protest” as it was used in Shakespeare’s day, as the “protest” of the lady is not a protest in the modern sense of the word, but an affirmation or avowal.

    As one who used to give advice to a ‘great’ Department of State as to whether people were telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I can opine that ‘the Councillor doth protest too much, methinks’.

    I know we’ve just had an election, results hopefully today, but whatever the result, Joe Plant should tell all, and if elected, instead of using the old and inevitable ‘the voters have given their opinion’, ploy, should, if he was not involved in any under-hand dealings, be calling vociferously for a an open public investigation. If the alleged skullduggery did occur he should still want the investigation and also resign. After all, an election where more than half the electors do not know more than half the truth on a major issue is not really, morally, valid.

  6. Nigel Ward May 3, 2013 at 7:27 am - Reply

    More interesting is the report in today’s Yorkshire Post:

    Yorkshire Post – Friday 3rd May 2013:

    “Councillor probed on ‘failure to register company”

    http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/at-a-glance/general-news/councillor-probed-on-failure-to-register-company-1-5641458

    “Clearly there is the potential for the investigation to suggest the authority’s decision-making – as opposed to what Tim Lawn may have done personally – has been in some way affected.”

    Lisa Dixon, Scarborough Council’s legal director, said: “The investigation into former borough councillor, Tim Lawn, relates to the failure to disclose a pecuniary interest”.

    WHO IS NEXT ? ? ? ? ?

  7. Gary Ludlow May 3, 2013 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    Cllr Plant THIS IS SICKENING

    Joe Plant and MeeToo rip off really does make sickening reading.

    Is it true that you as a County Councillor and Chair of a Childrens Committee covering the entire area of the County of North Yorkshire, chased up a payment in another Councillors Ward and paid out £113,000 to a tiny business, with whom you had connections, taking part in a County Council Childrens scheme called Me Too
    ONE HUNDRED & THIRTEEN THOUSAND POUNDS One invoice.

    That’s twenty six thousand individual childrens activities at £5.00 per activity.

    In just your tiny weeny area alone in this remote corner of the whole of North Yorkshire, the largest county in the United Kingdom, someone (whom people say you personally know really well, like really well) invoiced the scheme you were head of as an NYCC committee chair, for a total of ONE HUNDRED & THIRTEEN THOUSAND POUNDS and YOU did not question it even though the brains and management of NYCC did.

    £113,000 claimed when people are being laid off??

    And you approved, some say took an active part in assisting, oiling, in fact demanding, in the North Yorkshire County Council CHAMBER in a full County Council meeting, to ensure the provider of the childrens activity, the one tiny business, was paid out £113,000 after serious concerns were raised by NYCC mnagement, thereby delaying the payment.

    Despite the fact that NYCC really struggled to find the money allocated for the scheme. Your family contact had brought the scheme to the point of total collapse & disrepute with just one invoice.

    DO YOU REALISE THAT is 22,600 CHILDREN’S ACTIVITIES……. at £5 per activity…

    One Activity enjoyed by TWENTY TWO THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED CHILDREN at £5 per activity.

    What was that activity and Where did the twenty two thousand children come from?

    NYCC Councillor PLANT’s Declaration was fourteen months late, having been delivered only at the urging of an (unidentified) NYCC “legal officer”.

    Councillor PLANT now amends the allegations he made in his formal Declaration, stating that they were “from people on the street how true it is I don’t know” – i.e. mere hearsay.

    Councillor PLANT refers, for the first time, to criminality – i.e. forgery and fraud.

    Councillor PLANT refers to having “brought to the attention of the council” the outstanding invoices of providers – including the business in which he had a duty to declare a personal interest (but did not – for fourteen months, plus), namely. Esk Leisure, i.e. Mini Monsterz, in Ruswarp, which is not situated in Councillor PLANT’s division – Whitby Streonshalh).

    Councillor PLANT now corrects his omission, in his formal Declaration, that one of the as-yet unpaid providers was the one in which he held a disclosable personal interest.

    Remaining silent is speaks VOLUMES about you Cllr Plant. What was the activity? How many Children were involved to rack up a bill of £113,000?
    Why did you chase up the money even though the business was NOT even in your Council Ward ????
    Should we the public be told?

  8. Joseph Hughes May 3, 2013 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    Despite all of this, we said ‘yes’ to him. : (

    • Gary Ludlow May 3, 2013 at 10:01 pm - Reply

      Despite all of this Whitby Cllr Joe Plant still stood and local Conservative Party and MP Robert Goodwill thought he was a good candidate.
      Cllr Plant was elected because he was a Conservative in a very Conservative Party ward.
      However the Labour Candidate was a mere 70 votes behind.
      It’s very important Cllr Plant was re-elected as we can now get to the bottom of the Me Too Voucher scheme as Cllr Plant has some very important answers to some very important questions.
      MeToo

  9. GERALD. May 5, 2013 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    But now let us compare Councillor PLANT’s Declaration with the account he offered to me, in an email of 2nd April 2011 – just six weeks after his formal Declaration:

    “”I am really concerned how the ME TOO voucher scheme is being run in Whitby. The scheme is aimed for families on free school meals and benefits, it started off very well, now it is really, really silly. Families on big wages get them, and this is how silly it is, a millionaire lottery winner gets them. Vouchers are photo copied, forged and even sold on to other people. This info is from people on the street how true it is, i do not know. But I know that the whole scheme has lost its meaning. The losers are and will be the families that need them
    ——
    This from Mr Joe Plant, even as a councillor. !!!!
    Surely he has the responsibility to inform the police of the forgery, photo copying etc… SO THEY can check all vouchers submitted by ‘mini monsterz”…. and throw out all forged ones….
    Then they can check all vouchers submitted for payment.
    As Mr Plant raised the subject of forgery, he’s personally responsible as a councillor for the accusations to be checked on behalf of the council. Or is he consciously covering up for illegal practices ????
    [ one thousand one hundred and thirteen children, with each a voucher worth a thousand ££££££’s . Time to have the real figures, instead of juggling, the mind boggles…. and then there were all the other businesses to be paid out. ]

  10. Tom Brodrick May 6, 2013 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    Come on Cllr Plant.
    One Thousand and Thirteen Children each with a Voucher for £1000 pounds.
    A voucher worth £1,300 was given out to 1300 Children, that’s One Thousand Three Hundred Children.
    Is this a fact?

  11. kathleen parker May 6, 2013 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    I see in the Whitby Gazette MiniMonterz are opening another branch in Eastfield, wonder where the moneys from?!

  12. GERALD. May 6, 2013 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    Apology for ‘confusing wording of comment’ above.
    ”’ [ one thousand one hundred and thirteen children, with each a voucher worth a thousand ££££££’s . Time to have the real figures, instead of juggling, the mind boggles…. and then there were all the other businesses to be paid out. ]”’

    It should have read ” one thousand ( multiplied by)one hundred and thirteen children, with each a voucher worth a thousand ££££££’s .
    113 children. £1,000 each.
    Is it a fact ? At the moment, anything is a possibility, some possibilities do become facts, though not all.
    It could be just as possible, 226 children @ £500 each.
    Then the question arises, who were these children ? Where from, schools? care homes? general public? someone’s relatives ?
    ——–
    That aside, surely the council keeps record on the number of vounchers printed, and by which company. And no council can pay out a penny more than the collective face value .
    Then there is the number of vouchers submitted for payment, not simply a business sending an invoice, but a business that presents the actual vouchers, for counting and for checking by council staff.
    And as councillor Mr Plant has notified at least one none councillor, a member of the public, about possibility of forgery, illegal copying [since become public knowledge.]. Then it must have been felt as a great responisibility for Mr Plant, when he stood in the council chamber, and announced possible iregularities to all other councilors.
    So, whats been the result of the council staffs checking of the vounchers ?????
    Surely, Joe Plant must have exercised his civic conscience and informed to all the other councillors ? He wouldn’t cover up, especially after admitting to a none councilor, the possibility of illegalities, would he ??

  13. Richard Ineson May 8, 2013 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    We need a transparent, open, fully detailed, account of how much money was spent and who received the money, until this is done, the suspicion that a swindle, involving public money, has been perpetrated will remain. If all is well, and the money has been spent in the manner in which it was intended that it should be spent, what objection could anyone have to a fully detailed account, explaining the expenditure, being presented to the public? Secrecy, as in so many other matters involving our Councils, just breeds suspicion, daylight, as Sir Winston Churchill once remarked, is the best disinfectant.

  14. Tim Thorne June 1, 2013 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    I see the Scarborough News have removed the recent Mini Monsterz article, probably due to the comments.

    http://www.thescarboroughnews.co.uk/news/business/local-business/play-centre-set-to-reopen-under-new-ownership-1-5632755

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This Is A Custom Widget

This Sliding Bar can be switched on or off in theme options, and can take any widget you throw at it or even fill it with your custom HTML Code. Its perfect for grabbing the attention of your viewers. Choose between 1, 2, 3 or 4 columns, set the background color, widget divider color, activate transparency, a top border or fully disable it on desktop and mobile.

This Is A Custom Widget

This Sliding Bar can be switched on or off in theme options, and can take any widget you throw at it or even fill it with your custom HTML Code. Its perfect for grabbing the attention of your viewers. Choose between 1, 2, 3 or 4 columns, set the background color, widget divider color, activate transparency, a top border or fully disable it on desktop and mobile.