Mike Ward: An essay on Local Government ethics



An essay on Local Government ethics

- by Mike Ward

The duty of any Councillor and Council Officer is to listen to residents and act with openness, honesty, integrity and transparency at all times.

They are there to serve us.

Broadband Allowances and the Me Too!” Voucher Scheme are well-reported issues which have highlighted serious concerns.

Lessons hopefully have been learnt and measures put in place to prevent the outcomes we have seen from ever happening again.

However, what has occurred does not excuse anyone who was in any way connected. Poor administration, ill-conceived projects, inadequate rules/regulations/allowances, the manipulation of the “Me Too!” voucher scheme, and similar morally indefensible actions cannot be condoned.

Council Officers & Councillors have to think outside the box and try to foresee problems that might occur, especially where there may be a chance of personal gain, in or outside any Council.

They all should be well acqainted with Nolan’s Seven Priciples of Public Life

  • selfleness,
  • integrity,
  • objectivity,
  • accountability,
  • openness,
  • honesty,
  • leadship.

There are many conscientious, hard-working and well-meaning Officers and Councillors, but some just simply fail to think how their actions might be perceived.

Some, with hindsight, might well feel their actions have been foolish or mis-judged – to say the very least.

Simple answers to simple questions from the outset. Why, if nothing is wrong, is there such a defensive culture running through our Councils ?

Communication has to improve – a point I first made 6 years ago; but little has changed.

Residents have a right to know, and be party to, all decisions taken. It is our money that is sometimes being wasted. Is is never wrong to admit mistakes, provided appropriate actions are taken going forward.

Broadband

We know there was nothing in law preventing the double claim from both District and the Council Councils; nothing to prevent a husband and wife claiming the same allowance although living in the same house.

It was left entirely to the individual Councillor’s own conscience.

Will anyone of those who ‘double dipped’ please try to justify their actions they took, morally?

I know when this story first broke, there was at least one of those involved who did want to make a payment to a charity in lieu of what they agreed was morally wrong.

At least one wanted to pay back what he had received, but personal circumstances prevented that course of action. In the end, and as a Group, they decided to brazen it out – in my mind a wrong decision. If only one Councillor had stood up to be counted.

Why couldn’t those involved simply admit it was morally indefensible and apologise. If they had – or could maybe? – it would be time to move on.

Respect could be regained, even at this late stage.

Me Too

From their own admissions, NYCC realise this well-intentioned scheme was not thought through and was poorly administered.

There were early concerns expressed by some schools but appropriate action was not taken.

The whole system was open to abuse. I do wonder why a cap was not put on the number of vouchers issued or limits on expenditure.

Why didn’t local Officers, Councillors, etc, see the problem and react ?

Again, maybe nothing illegal in taking the poorly-thought-through Voucher system for everything it had, but this was from the public purse – our money.

Better use could have been made of monies paid to the very large claimants.

Education in Whitby is suffering from lack of investment. Much more could and should have been done with that money.

Would some claimants even now consider opening their venue to school groups free of charge to show some understanding of the issue ?

Mileage Claims 

A few of these have recently quite rightly been questioned. Why can’t this question be answered – quickly?

Surely all expense forms are examined and approved by the Finance Dept., though in the main I believe it is down to ‘self certification’.

If a journey from home to a Council Meeting is 10 miles then I would expect a claim of 20 miles for the round trip. If a claim was put in for 40 miles, surely an Officer, if this matter was raised with him/her, would want to know why – and the claimant would want to explain. The person in question would surely want to put the matter straight.

If not, why not?

A simple explanation should be given quickly to a very simple question.

When Councils close ranks then I’m afraid some will think the worst. It is up Officers and Councillors to change this viewpoint. We have a right to know.

Recent events should have been a wake up call to residents.

It is TIME FOR A CHANGE – in attitudes, morals, organisation, regulations, etc, etc, etc.

Mike Ward

Help Real Whitby – Use Our Skimlinks To Shop

15 Responses to "Mike Ward: An essay on Local Government ethics"

  1. kathleen parker  March 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    All councillors want to do the right thing when 1st elected then greed takes over!

    Reply
    • Mike Ward  March 26, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      This is surely an exaggeration of the facts even given the concerns raised.
      I personally know many Councillors of all political persuasions who serve not for personal gain.
      The Council allowance at SBC is minimal considering the hours some conscientious councillors put in.
      I can only speak from experience as an ex Independent Councillor.I spent in excess of 25 hours a week on Council business and for that received approx £3500 a year or £70 a week – less than £3 an hour.
      Personal greed or gain never once entered my thoughts.
      Yes on top of this allowance/salary I did receive a mileage allowance to attend the many meetings in Scarborough. I never claimed for more local meetings.I did however after 4 years of high mileage have to replace my car.The only other payments as such I received where the broadband allowance and a carpark permit.
      As an Independent I paid for all my election expenses etc.
      I was there to try to make a difference for the residents.I regarded it as a privilege to serve.
      Mike

      Reply
      • Nigel Ward  March 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm

        It is an exaggeration, Mike, that’s true: but the fact remains that there are a sizeable number of egotistical and self-serving photo-opportunists, without a constructive thought in their heads who, at best, are passengers riding the system, and, at worst, serial abusers of Allowances, Expenses, procurement opportunities, you name it – anything to bring in the bucks. We are discovering who they are.

        They will be judged in the court of public opinion.

        Reply
      • Dave  March 26, 2013 at 1:59 pm

        Hi Mike.. Surely you also knew/know of Dodgy councillors who were only there for the money and all they could glean from the system..Its takes a special kind of person to fight for the rights of people they don’t know.It also takes integrity and courage to stand up to those who want to help themselves to the public purse..If there wasn’t/isn’t such a secretive culture in Local and regional councils and they were indeed transparent and honest, why would we be seeing such evidence of corruption and collusion within these establishments? What I find very un-nerving is the fact that when you report such activity, that common purpose (networking) falls into play and all lines of further enquiry are closed to all but those who are “Members of the Club”.. I understand wanting to protect your friends, its a natural human reaction to a set of circumstances where your friends could be seen to be on the wrong side of the law and lose their lively hood and possibly their liberty for their actions, However we are constantly being told that “If we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear..!”…What indeed are they hiding?…

        “”They all should be well acquainted with Nolan’s Seven Principles of Public Life –

        selflessness,
        integrity,
        objectivity,
        accountability,,
        openness,
        honesty,
        leadership.””

        If those who presume authority over people can not be held to account for their actions, then tyranny prevails and true democratic process, The rule of Law and justice can not.

        Reply
  2. Mike Ward  March 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Where do friends come into this debate !?
    Our Councils are too defensive.
    Communication is appalling.
    When questions are raised they should be answered.
    Not one has the right to be ‘protected’.
    We live and should be judged by our actions.
    Some of those I am ‘acquainted’ with did ‘double dip’.I think there actions were morally indefensible and have made that perfectly clear in what I have written and what I have said.
    Mike

    Reply
  3. Mike Ward  March 26, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Where do friends come into this debate !?
    Our Councils are too defensive.
    Communication is appalling.
    When questions are raised they should be answered.
    Not one has the right to be ‘protected’.
    We live and should be judged by our actions.
    Some of those I am ‘acquainted’ with did ‘double dip’.I think their actions were morally indefensible and have made that perfectly clear in what I have written and what I have said to rthem and others.
    Mike

    Reply
  4. JD  March 26, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    In my view, second only to the need for honesty amongst politicians comes conviction and views that are constant and reliable. Voters have a right to know what candidates’ views are before they elect them, how they are likely to vote on their behalf, to know that their councillor/ MP won’t capriciously decide to U-turn at a whim or to follow some concealed ideological whim. That is why we need political parties with clear policies and agenda rather than the whimsical independent group who may or may not throw their hat into the ruling party’s ring. In my view many of Whitby’s ills have been caused by its leaders with their self-seeking agendas and lack of political vision and conviction.

    Reply
  5. Yorkie Gull  March 26, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Our wonderful Councillor T (Sly) Fox will always listen to residents problems. Errr!! That if they can find him. HE’S!! IN!! THE! LEEDS!!! ARMS!! Trouble is if its past 20:30 hrs He will have trouble understanding what you are talking about. Unless its would you like another pint of Guinness.

    Reply
  6. Yorkie Gull  March 26, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    Government & a number of large charity organizations think they are a law unto themselves. Using massive volumes of White Wash when they have to answer somewhat tricky questions brought about by individuals or public organizations. There’s two such organisations that come to mind that can certainly lay it on thick and keep the white wash producing companies going into the next millennia. Scarborough Council & RNLI Poole.

    Reply
  7. Mike Ward  March 26, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    We may have to differ on the need for Party politics at the local level.
    All parties have some good ideas some of the time.
    Locally surely we need all Councillors just pulling together in the best interest of their residents.When on SBC and when it came to the vote that is what I always did not caring whether it was an idea put forward by the Cons,Labour or Lib/Dems.
    Always happy to discuss my views but I will remain Independent.No whims on my part and I have never agreed with Councillors jumping ship especially mid-term for any reason.I just could never see myself answerable to a Party whip.
    Mike

    Reply
    • Tim Thorne  March 27, 2013 at 1:41 am

      “Locally surely we need all Councillors just pulling together in the best interest of their residents.”

      Unfortunately they then have the local government Officers to contend with who mostly run rings around them. Getting anything done in the best interests of the residents requires a steely determination, which explains why nothing gets done and vast sums of money gets wasted on nothing in particular.

      Reply
  8. Richard Ineson  March 27, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Well said Mike, you know my feelings about secrecy, obfuscation, delay,so called ‘public consultation’ STAKEHOLDER STEERING GROUPS and how they are used to subvert the democratic process, the manner in which Council officers avoid answering questions and then, when the questions are pursued, labelling the enquirer as ‘vexatious, then there is the use of the DATA PROTECTION ACT to avoid answering questions. I covered most of this on my article entitled ‘KEVYONOCRACY’ so no need to labour the point here. Carry on telling the truth, somebody will have to listen one day.

    Reply
  9. JD  March 27, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    The thing that worries me is that there have been occasions where someone elected to a position of authority has instigated a project which many people spent a lot of time and energy in progressing, only to end up with the instigator capriciously changing his mind at the 59th minute of the eleventh hour and halting all progress. Surely conviction counts here. Playing with people’s future is not a game.

    Reply
    • Mike Ward  March 27, 2013 at 11:29 pm

      Interesting point but without specifics it is difficult to comment.
      Most projects even if agreed/welcomed by an individual at the outset usually mean discussions and majority decisions. Very rarely down to one person as this would not be democratic.
      I suspect it could happen when people change the goalposts following the original idea.
      JD ? Do you want to put a name to the initials ? Please do contact me if you would like to ellaborate and have a proper discussion.
      Mike

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

whitby photography by glenn kilpatrick