Trimming the lawns, pruning the plants . . . – First Published March 2013
– an “In My View” article, by Nigel Ward
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
- Corruption Buster Nigel Ward interrupts the schedule of his series of exposés describing the fraud and forgery surrounding the Extended Schools “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme to report on an astonishing turn of pre-election events . . .
I have no wish to pre-empt the spectacular dénouement of my long-running “Me Too!” investigation, but I must beg the indulgence of readers who have been awaiting the final part of the series in order to cover an unexpected turn of events.
At 4:40am on the morning of Monday 25th March 2013, the following comment was posted on an article of mine entitled ‘“Me Too!” – a mystery of many parts’, first published in September 2012. Here is the comment:
March 25, 2013 at 4:40 am
Dear Mr Ward
I have kept all your information about the serious comments you have made and still make. I will name a few, Corruption, Double Dipping, Dishonesty, Fraud. If you have evidence of this then instead of playing it out behind a desk and over the web, may I suggest you go to the police. I am more than happy for you to do that.
A local resident of Whitby. Joe Plant
I hope you will bear with me while I examine this extraordinary comment in detail.
Firstly, let me flag up what may seem a trivial point to new readers. As regular readers well know, I have always made clear to Councillors and Officers at Local Authorities that I take grave exception to being addressed as ‘Mr’, or ‘Mister’ or, indeed, ‘Mr Ward’, or ‘Mr N Ward’ of ‘Mr Nigel Ward’; I find use of titles deeply insulting; they are an affront to equality.
Because of this, it is my declared preference to be addressed by my given name – ‘Nigel’ – and I have always made this known to Councillors and Officers of all the Authorities with whom I correspond of this, including CEOs and Monitoring Officers.
By and large, except occasionally in the case of those with whom I have never before corresponded, someone addresses me as ‘Mr Ward’, all Councillor and Officers respect my preference. In the unusual event that someone fails to do so, I always write back, politely explaining my preference (to which I have an ‘entitlement’, by the way), and this invariably elicits a courteous apology and we can resume business on amicable terms. No problem.
In the past, County Councillor Joe PLANT has always addressed me, in his emails, as ‘Nigel’ and I know that he is aware of and (normally) respects my preference, since he well knows how offensive I find the use of the title ‘Mr’. Whilst being formal in his address to me, he has signed himself off with his Christian name, thereby retaining the use of the familiar for himself, but denying it to me.
This leads to the conclusion that, on this occasion, it was County Councillor Joe PLANT’s intention to be quite deliberately offensive to me; in the public domain.
He then proceeds to list some of the very serious issues that the Corruption Busters have been investigating. He has been saving them. I should like to examine them.
There are many definitions of ‘Corruption’. For me, the most concise and yet all-embracing is the one formulated by Transparency International. It reads:
- “CORRUPTION is the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain. It hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority”.
It makes no distinction between acts of bribery, fraud, forgery, nepotism, embezzlement, etc, concentrating instead on the fundamental issue – the breach of the public trust. Nor does it distinguish between financial gain, public kudos (ie: ‘electability’), unmerited privilege, ‘insider’ trading information, etc – any unauthorised gain suffices to damn the guilty.
Perhaps County (and Borough) Councillor Joe PLANT has not read the professional opinion of Detective Inspector Cedric CHRISTIE of the West Yorkshire Police, where, prior to his retirement, he spent many years in the WYP Fraud Division:
- “Claiming twice for something like broadband is just the same as claiming mileage from two different authorities for the same journey. If I was investigating these circumstances I would consider a case of fraud by false representation under Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006.”
Recently there have been a number of comments on Real Whitby by correspondents opining that the practice of double-dipping may well be immoral or dishonest, but it is not actually criminal. This position that is not tenable in law.
The Fraud Act 2006 defines criminal fraud as occurring when:
1. A person behaves dishonestly. The act of dishonesty can be one of commission (i.e. making an expenses claim) or one of omission (i.e. not refunding an overpayment); the Fraud Act 2006makes no distinction.
2. Either that person makes a gain, or another person makes a loss.
Applying that statutory standard to the thirty-seven double-dipping County Councillors, let it be noted that:
1) No correspondent to Real Whitby denies that the practice of taking multiple and excessive Broadband Allowances from different Councils to pay for one and the same single (and cheaper) Broadband connection expenditure is obviously wrong; or, for that matter, of husband and wife receiving two separate and excessive Broadband Allowances from SBC to pay for one Broadband connection, or putting in an expense claim at one Authority for telephone calls already paid for from the Basic Allowance at another (delegating) Authority is immoral and dishonest.
2) Nor does anyone deny that the double-dippers have made a monetary gain by their dishonesty. This being the case, prima facie there are grounds for bringing a criminal case of fraud against the double-dippers, because the Fraud Act 2006 defines an act of dishonesty to make gain as fraud.
County Councillor Joe PLANT next lists ‘Dishonesty’ and ‘Fraud’. It should hardly be necessary, after the two preceding items, to go very far down that road.
What is of note is that County Councillor Joe PLANT was commenting on an article in which his own name appears only twice. Allow me to quote from my own article:
“I first took an interest in the Extended Schools “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme (which, to remind readers, was a 2008 Labour Government initiative providing ring-fenced funding to enable deprived children to engage in extra-curricular learning opportunities (horse-riding, photography, dance, learning to swim, etc) following an article in the Whitby Gazette in November 2010, entitled “Activities launch for youngsters”, in which Councillor Joe PLANT was quoted as saying:
- “The free school meals and the Me Too vouchers are there for you and to help you. In the simplest terms use them or lose them.”
Councillor Joe PLANT was promoting the scheme as part of his position as Chair of the NYCC Young People Scrutiny Committee, who had oversight of the initiative. (The Young People Scrutiny Committee meets six times a year, and the Chair receives an additional £4,632 in Allowances – that is £772 per meeting – plus a few photo opportunities with the Gazette. Nice work if you can get it. (As a Conservative Councillor and Kenyon protégé, you probably can get it). It makes one wonder what is the primary motivation for some people seeking election.”
But let us now address the matter of ‘Dishonesty’.
- Does County Councillor Joe PLANT deny promoting the “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme in November 2009?
- Does County Councillor Joe PLANT deny his Chairship of the Young People Scrutiny Committee, or the Special Responsibility Allowance of £4,632 per annum associated with that position?
What is it, then, that causes County Councillor Joe PLANT to rattle off such a rash comment at 4:40am on a Monday morning?
(Incidentally, this new out-break of publicity has encouraged more people to come forward with damning evidence, for which I am grateful).
I doubt that I am alone in concluding that County Councillor Joe PLANT is astonishingly anxious to protest his innocence, perhaps too much, of anything remotely dishonest or fraudulent in the run-up to the County elections on 2nd May 2013.
But his double-dipping is a matter of public record. There is no escaping it. He has accepted money from two Councils for one and the same Broadband connection. FACT.
Readers of the Whitby Gazette of 26th October 2012 may recall that County Councillor Joe PLANT was quoted as stating, apropos the double-dipping:
- “As this has to go through NYCC standards committee I cannot comment further. When that decision is known I will give a frank and honest statement about the whole issue”.
But that Standards Decision (exonerating the double-dippers on a point of Council terminology) came down within the week, on 2nd November 2012 – more than five months ago – and County Councillor Joe PLANT has remained tellingly silent. FACT.
So why is he suddenly running off at the mouth now?
County Councillor Joe PLANT’s discomfiture could perhaps have arisen as a result of his position in relation to the “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme.
An email to me from Paul ATKINSON of NYCC, dated 20th March 2013 – just last week – included, as an attachment, a response to my FOIA N6341 in which NYCC Monitoring Officer Carole DUNN states:
- “There were significant communications failings over a period of time on the part of the officers involved to their managers in the receipt and handling of an unusually high invoice from a provider which posed budgetary problems, resulting in decisions as to the widening of eligibility criteria and expansion of activities being taken by the cluster without knowledge of the problem.”
I have highlighted the phrase “an unusually high invoice from a provider” for very good reason.
Readers of my article ‘“Me Too!” – a mystery of many parts’ will perhaps recall reading about the NYCC Officer – a ‘whistle-blower’ – who, in February 2011, named for me a County Councillor who had made inappropriate overtures to the Council for payment of a “Me Too!” Voucher invoice of alarming proportions that had been submitted to the Council by a “Me Too!” service provider, who is related to that County Councillor, by marriage.
Two other witnesses – both citizens in good-standing; both, in fact, School Governors – have confirmed this information.
County Councillor Joe PLANT has confirmed for me, in an email of 2nd April 2011, that he has a son who married into the family of a “Me Too!” service provider – in fact, the same one named by my three informants. FACT.
In a meeting with NYCC CEO Richard FLINTON earlier this month, my friend (but not relation) Mike WARD elicited the information that the majority of the “Me Too!” service providers had now been paid – though some at a reduced settlement figure. According to NYCC accounts, payment to a service provider (a family-run business – a family related, by marriage, to the County Councillor in question) was made in December 2012, in a sum significantly in excess of £100,000. That sounds like a lot of Vouchers to me! The ‘Junior’ Admission Fee for an hour’s swimming at Whitby Leisure Centre is a good Voucher’s worth at £3.20. It would take 35,000 such sessions to run up a bill of well over £100K.
Now, County Councillor Joe PLANT maintains that this is no problem, because he declared his interest in a Meeting of Full Council at NYCC on 16th February 2011 – but that was fifteen months after he was trumpeting the “Me Too!” Scheme in the Whitby Gazette of 25th November 2009. (Readers will note that he was still addressing me as ‘Nigel’ back then, even when I was pressing him hard for a full explanation of his part in the “Me Too!” affair):
—– Original Message —–
From: Cllr.Joe Plant
Cc: Carole Dunn
Sent: Sunday, April 03, 2011 4:29 PM
Subject: Full Council
The date of the Full Council which I declared an interest was 16 Feb 2011.
That declaration reads thus:
- 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.”
Unfortunately, this declaration of interest came not only fifteen months too late – but only after the ordure had hit the air-recirculatory system, when news of the fraud and forgery elements of the “Me Too!” affair become widely-known, when the following announcement appeared on the East Whitby Community Primary web-site. FACT.
Me Too Vouchers
21st January 2011
Re: Me Too Vouchers
It took some considerable effort and persuading to convince the authority that all pupils/families at East Whitby should be eligible for Me Too vouchers. I am sure that you appreciate having them and the obvious benefits of being able to access the activities available free of charge. The cost of all our families having the vouchers is considerable.
It has come to my notice that pupils/families not from East Whitby have somehow obtained East Whitby School vouchers and are using them fraudulently. Not only is this illegal but it reflects very badly on us as a school, as people will automatically assume the worst, and accuse East Whitby parents of passing the vouchers on.
If you lose your vouchers, please let me know immediately so I can warn the providers and please do not pass on vouchers to anyone else. They are for your child’s use only. Abuse of the system could easily result in the vouchers being withdrawn.
Thank you to the vast majority for your co-operation. Please let me know if you have any more information regarding this matter.
Three weeks after this bombshell, County Councillor Joe PLANT, having said nothing for the past fifteenn months, suddenly declared an interest and offered an interesting tale of abuse – at the very time when those two School Governors and the NYCC ‘whistleblower’ were making very earnest entreaties to me to expose the apparent nepotism that they knew of directly, from within ‘the system’. FACT.
That same ‘system’ has contrived to keep a lid on this disgraceful affair ever since.
The Extended School “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme was backed by £1,570,000 of Disadvantaged Subsidy funding from the DCSF, to which NYCC chipped in a further £157,000, totalling over £1.727 MILLION, to be disbursed through Vouchers that had no face-value, no serial numbers, no anti-forgery provisions and no systems in place to prevent those ‘in the know’ from tipping-off associates about this extraordinary opportunity to quite literally print money.
North Yorkshire Police
On 19th June 2012, NYCC Monitoring Officer Carole DUNN informed me that the Police were considering the “Me Too!” investigation. This turned out to be a rural beat PC in Hambleton – hardly a Police Officer qualified to evaluate a complex £1.727million case of fraud, forgery, nepotism and public sector corruption.
Neither the beat Constable himself nor NYCC CEO Richard FLINTON could provide a Crime Number. FACT.
Monitoring Officer Carole DUNN now tells me, in an FOIA response dated 18th March 2013, that:
- “It is uncertain whether a copy of this report was provided to North Yorkshire Police, but it is believed that police officers were given sight of it and so it is this report which is being considered for disclosure in response to the request.”
“It is uncertain” – “it is believed” – does the Monitoring Officer really not know? Or is this legal-speak for “we successfully contrived to keep the Police out of it”?
She then proceeds to withhold the report!
One would think that it was no concern to electors – on the brink of an election – that the truth should finally out, so that electors know what sort of Councillors they run the risk of electing.
But, once again, Carole DUNN, of Private Eye notoriety, covers up the truth.
In 2011, Inspector Mark GRANGE, of the Whitby Police (NYP), told me on two separate occasions – each in the presence of a witness – that it was NYP policy NOT to pursue investigations of Local Authorities except at the behest of the Authority in question. FACT.
Perhaps that explains County Councillor Joe PLANT’s ostentatious show of willingness to embrace a Police investigation.
But on 16th April 2013, North Yorkshire Police & Crime Commissioner Julia MULLIGAN hopes to announce the name of the next Chief Constable of the North Yorkshire Police.
A ‘new broom’ (hopefully) will in due course receive my 70,000+ word report.