New Media and Local Politics – by Tim Thorne

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New Media and Local Politics – by Tim Thorne

  • Now that Scarborough Borough Council’s embarrassing travesty of a Standards Hearing into the proven double-dipping by ten elected members has passed into history, Corruption Buster Tim Thorne has been taking a closer look at  the Council’s bunker mentality in wider terms.

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New Media and Local Politics – by Tim Thorne

Times they are a-changing. Gone are the days when the final word on a subject in local politics was given by a local Authority press release or through their stooges in the local paper. The only dissenting voices were to be read in the letters page of the same local press or by word of mouth.

Today there are several ways for disgruntled residents and activists to get their point of view across. Blogging, Tweeting and Social Media are currently the most fashionable methods.

Political blogs such as Guido Fawkes now dominate the Westminster Political Scene. Fawkes regularly scoops the Dead Tree Press for obvious reasons and is not afraid to expose the clique that is Westminster Journalism. Fawkes is responsible for bringing a wider audience to the now well known fact that Two Jags actually had Two Shags and left us all mortified with that image in our minds. We also know that the World Land Speed record was not broken by a woman in a late night run between Central London and Stansted Airport.

The Fawkes Blog juxtaposes nicely with the Mr Monkey Blog. Mr Monkey made South Tyneside Council the talk of the town with accusations of alcoholism amongst members, sexual deviancy, corruption and ballot-rigging, specifically against the Leader of the Council. This prompted the Council to spend £250,000 of public money trying to uncover the identity of Mr Monkey through a series of lawsuits in the US.

There was much talk of reputations being damaged and threats of legal action, but the blog currently hosts the same accusations three years later and the Leader of the Council was not prosecuted. Make of that what you will.

Twitter moves at the speed of light, often too fast for developing stories and doesn’t lend itself well to providing a snapshot of important stories. When you get the facts wrong and your tweet has already reached an audience of tens of thousands of people, it is impossible to withdraw it as it has been retweeted far and wide. Some celebrities *innocent face* have found this out to their own personal cost.

Facebook is not to be underestimated in its power to gather support for an issue in a very short space of time.

The Real Whitby Blog is currently changing the local political scene, but it is inadvertently making positions more entrenched. The NYCC/SBC Broadband Allowance Double-Dipping articles appear to have made Cllrs more reticent to engage with their constituents. Instead of encouraging the Councillors to sort out the issue in a timely, reasonable and honourable manner, the Counllors, along with the two Councils’ Monitoring Officers, have retreated into a bunker mentality with the end result being a series of ridiculous attempts to justify the unjustifiable. It seems no one is capable of admitting an error no matter how obvious the error.

New Media is also having other unintended effects. Scarborough Borough Council really do not know how to deal with New Media. Through an FOI request, I showed that the statement of SBC and Councillor Tom Fox that the new I-Pads cost the tax payer £160 was complete rubbish. The FOI request also showed that the total cost of the I-Pads will be close to £53,000 over the first two years.

My article also showed the purchase of I-Pads was completely unnecessary and the whole purchase will end up costing the taxpayer much more than the cost of the I-Pads themselves. This and other adverse articles in the press have forced SBC to defend their position in the media.

Recent press releases espousing the ludicrous claims about how much money the I-Pads, purchased for Councillors and Council Officers, will save the tax payer have been widely derided. It is quite obvious that even the people writing the SBC press releases don’t themselves believe that they will save any money.

New Media is also shining a light on the Councillor Complaints Process, much to the chagrin of the Local Authorities. The 2010 change in Government swept away the New Labour Quango that was ‘Standards Board for England’. The organisation was tasked with ensuring that all local politicians operate to the highest ethical standards, but with a successful complaint rate of less than 1% it was widely accepted as a complete failure, leaving local politicians to operate without any real scrutiny and having their peers as their only check and balance.

The minutes of the 18th October 2012 SBC Standards Committee meeting showed just how out of touch SBC, the Councillors and the Complaints Process are. The SBC Monitoring Officer complained of the “open manner in which the coverage of the complaint had been portrayed in the media and on social sites”.

Councillor Joe Plant said that coverage in the media had affected the lives of all and their right to a fair trial breaching Article 6.

Councillor Brian Simpson agreed and that in the future there should be a mechanism in place to protect members from this type of onslaught.

It seems that any lessons that should have been learned during the Broadband Allowance Double-Dipping saga have not been learned, and the Councillors concerned are still not living in the real world. The solution is simple:

  • Don’t accept two allowances from two different Authorities for the same thing.

If you really don’t see a problem with your actions with respect to the Broadband Allowance then explain the situation to your constituents in full and ask them for their considered opinion. When you’ve had enough earache, the penny will finally drop.

The whole episode has left SBC in a quandary. They know that the validity of the complaint was justified, the morals were sound and the weight of public opinion was firmly behind Real Whitby and against the Councillors. The unwritten rule at SBC is that no Councillor will be admonished for any action, no matter how small. So with the glare of New Media shining a light on their actions how will they deal with any legitimate complaints in future?

If the complaint is detailed on Real Whitby or any other New Media, then the complaint will be ‘withdrawn’, irrespective of whether the complainant had any part in that or not.

The conclusion of the Standards Committee Meeting which discussed the Broadband Allowance Double-Dipping debacle is thus:

“Mr Goode stated that the Media coverage of a complaint had been discussed by himself and the Monitoring Officer and it would be made clear in the future that the Council reserve the right to withdraw a complaint if it is discussed in the media or on other social network sites prior to any hearing.”

In the past, complaints have been ignored for months on end, which is why it became necessary to publish them into the public domain.

From now on, SBC intends to ignore complaints about Councillors’ conduct whether they are published or not!

Related reading:

SBC_complaints_procedure

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.

15 Comments

  1. DKP December 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm - Reply

    So when Cllr Honest Joe hears there’s a complaint out against him, all he has to do is get his cronies to post it all over twitter and facebook and he’s imediately off the hook! Who dreams up this bullsh*t anyway? Why are we paying them?

  2. Richard Ineson December 19, 2012 at 6:41 pm - Reply

    This is a disgrace. Discussing the failures of your local council on a social network is merely an extension of discussing such matters over a pint with your mates, in the local pub.Our Councillors, unfortunately, are more stone age than computer age, and want to continue doing business behind closed doors using ‘smoke screen’ ‘public consultation’ mechanisms such as STAKEHOLDER STEERING GROUPS and secret outfits such as the Whitby Traffic Partnership,who hold their meetings in secret and whose proceedings are not subject to public scrutiny, and who are composed of unelected, unmandated, anonymous, and unaccountable people especially selected to come up with the ‘right’ answers. Eric Pickles is very interested in hearing about these kind of seedy activities in local government, if you have any concerns about the abuse of the democratic process, or any other apparent abuses of the system by your local authority, he will be pleased if you draw them to his attention. eric.pickles@communities.gsi.gov.uk

  3. kathleen parker December 19, 2012 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    What a disgrace yet again! So what happens if you. Wrote to the Whitby Gazette about a cllr if you can’t get an answer from a cllr regarding any complaint you might have? They just want their money for nowt get the bastards out that’s what I say! End of todays rant lol

  4. Dave December 20, 2012 at 12:35 am - Reply

    Eric Pickles is only interested in whether the next pie is Edible or if he can get his finger in to it..!All politicians regardless of political persuasion or creed are inherently corrupt.! Simply because the entire system is corrupt.! They will only ever act for the masses if it directly affects them personally.!

    • Joan McTigue January 3, 2013 at 10:08 am - Reply

      All politicians are not corrupt – because this one is NOT.

  5. Regular Contributor December 20, 2012 at 12:52 am - Reply

    Although it sounds dreadful, the real situation is no change. Scarborough Council Ignore legitimate complaints regardless. When was the last time they took serious the complaints of any of the people who write to real Whitby or anywhere else ? Come on guys take your heads out the sand, they hardly ever acknowledge a legitimate complaint and they completely ignore requests made under the Freedom Of Information Act. If this is a serious bid to silence people, it wont work, it also sounds as if it might actually be illegal. Im sure policy states that complaints have to be investigated and answered even if the complaint is found to be unjustified. Just keep publishing them here so that people can see what a set of self important idiots are running the show in Scarborough. Continue to highlight the corruption that is rife in our council in hope that the general masses will realise the level of corruption and actually do something about it at the ballot box..

    • Joan McTigue January 3, 2013 at 10:12 am - Reply

      If any council denies you info under the FOI act – then take it further and appeal – plenty of people do just that and win.

  6. jgh December 20, 2012 at 2:13 am - Reply

    “Don’t accept two allowances from two different Authorities for the same thing.”
    More pertanantly: don’t set up a plethora of multiple purpose allowances, sit down and set up a proper councillors’ salary system instead of being so terrified of being seen to “pay politicians from the public purse”. When I was a councillor I was just paid my councillor’s salary, any work-related expenses I kept records of everything and entered them on my tax return as work-related expenses, just like any other job. The Inland Revenue has been bashing away at councils to sort out their councillors’ pay system for more than a decade now, I can’t believe NYCC and SBC are still messing about like this.

  7. Nigel Ward December 20, 2012 at 11:20 am - Reply

    It is perhaps worth the trouble to explain to new readers that the complaints to which Tim Thorne has directed his concerns are not mundane matters such as late refuse collection or defective street-lighting.

    They are complaints concerning abuse of position, financial impropiety, serious omissions from Declarations of Interests and other matters of conspicuous public interest.

    The Pubic Record exists to provide an opportunity for members of the public to scrutinise the conduct of its SERVANTS. Those servants, when breaching the public trust, must be susceptible to investigation and, when found at fault, sanction.

    SBC operates after the fashion of a ruthless private enterprise business. It is secretive, devious, unaccountable and corrupt.

    It now seeks to hide its true nature behind a unilaterally declared wall of silence.

    It is in big trouble.

  8. David Clark December 20, 2012 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    Taken from Private Eye, current issue. Expenses Fiddler of the Year.Rotten Boroughs Award 2012. “Highly Commended” Ten councillors who sit on both NYCC and Scarborough Borough Council and were accused of “Double Dipping”- claiming from both councils for just one outlay on computer/IT equipment.

  9. Brian Dodds December 20, 2012 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    I don,t believe a situation like this could possibly exist without everyone in the town hall being aware of it. So it seems that all employees in the building must be subject to a gagging order,obviously not one person in that nest of corruption has any social conscience, morals or integrity, or indeed outrage, because they are all tax payers as well.

    • Joan McTigue January 3, 2013 at 10:16 am - Reply

      Of course many employees are aware of what goes on as far as expenses etc is concered but they fear for their jobs at times like this. Don’t forget, the ruling party in any council is a force to be reckoned with.

  10. Paul March 10, 2013 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    if anyone wants to start drawing up a list of charges of each councillor concerned, I have no problem with asking the local police to make arrests, if this can’t or won’t be done then citizens arrests should be actioned!

    Cart them off to the local cop shop and leave them their to be forcefully dealt with by the law!

  11. Nigel Ward August 2, 2013 at 10:04 am - Reply

    In conversation with several SBC Councillors recently, I have heard the same remak over and over again, in reference to the infamous decision to move to i-Pads – “Half the Councillors can barely boot up the damn things!” The entire exercise was utterly unfounded in reason and has served only to keep Councillors even further ‘out of the loop’ – just as the junta intended.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2383052/Cash-strapped-council-spent-361-800-save-printing-costs–axe-1-700-jobs-cut-80million-budget.html

  12. Joan McTigue August 2, 2013 at 11:39 am - Reply

    It’s those cllrs who do NOT belong to the ruling party who are kept out of the loop. I have to chase anything and everything – time after time after time and we have this stupd system whereby we should not contact officers directly – rather we have to send all our queries to a “onestop shop” system. They are then sent by staff to various depts and we are obliged to sit back and wait for them to reply !! According to the recently retured members office manager – cllrs cannot force officers to reply !!

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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.