“MONUMENTAL INCOMPETENCE & NEGLECT”
I must begin by declaring a position on the Scoresby Monument at Dock End, deep in the heart of Whitby. The fact is, I did not think much of it. It always looked to me like nothing more than a surplus telegraph pole with a tub and a fibreglass figure strapped to it – poor fare, indeed, in comparison to the Captain James Cook statue overlooking the Harbour mouth. It always struck me as being nothing more than a piece of old movie-set; actually a B movie-set.
Nevertheless, it stood as a monument to a notable pair of Whitby mariners. It will be missed by many.
It was just about 9:30pm on the evening of Tuesday 3rd April 2012 when I received a FaceBook PM from a friend of mine whose spouse happens to be Whitby Town (Parish) Councillor Sean Rixham-Smith. The message read, “Apparently Scorsby statue outside tourist information has blown down”. I asked for confirmation, and this was supplied by the Chair of Whitby in Bloom, Cllr Mrs Amanda Smith. In due course, I learned that Cllr Rixham-Smith was at the scene. The report was true.
Presently, it occurred to me the SBC’s Whitby Harbour Board Chair Cllr Mike Cockerill (SBC & NYCC) was the man who most needed to know this information, so I emailed him on his private email address, which I received, by the way, directly from Mike himself – at the time of the appointment of the Whitby Town Clerk, Mike was anxious to make certain information available to me. (Mike was subsequently the subject of a Standards Committee complaint – allegedly, he ‘leaked’ information already in the public domain!). No further action. Same old, same old.
At 11:18pm, Mike emailed his response, saying only “Evening Nigel. Thanks for the info. Mike”.
But let me go back a little way. In September 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron offered the nation his pledge for transparency and accountability at all levels of government. I am no fan of David Cameron, but I appreciated his commitment on this fundamental building block of our democracy:
“For too long those in power made decisions behind closed doors, released information behind a veil of jargon and denied people the power to hold them to account. This coalition is driving a wrecking ball through that culture – and it’s called transparency.” – [David Cameron – September 2010]
So I emailed all fifty Scarborough Borough Councillors and the eleven Executive Officers, and also the nineteen Whitby Town (Parish) Councillors and the Town Clerk and Deputy Clerk, asking if each of them personally upheld the Prime Minister’s position. Of those eighty-two people, only fifteen replied in the affirmative. The very first ‘I DO’ came from Mike Cockerill:
—– Original Message —–
From: Cllr.Mike Cockerill
Sent: 24/09/10 06:34 PM
Subject: Re: TRANSPARENCY and the public interest
Hi NIgel I DO uphold the PM’s statement calling for transparency. Cheers Mike
Note that capitalized ‘I DO’ – Mike’s capitals, not mine.
Now. Back to Tuesday night.
Reports kept coming in. Apparently, the mast had broken off near the ground. The timber on each side of the break was reportedly wet and rotten. An eyewitness stated that a passer-by had experienced a very close shave indeed.
On Wednesday morning, I visited Dock End, equipped with my camera and a 12” nail or spike.
I examined the timber – soft as a rotten pear – and took some pictures of the timber with my spike pushed in by my hand, to a depth of over half its length.
I started thinking about the great good fortune that nobody had been hurt. One hesitates to imagine the terrible consequences if the monument had toppled on Easter Sunday or bank Holiday Monday, with huge crowds milling around the plaque that stands before it, describing the Scoresbys and their considerable achievements.
So next morning, I emailed Mike Cockerill once more, asking if there was a liability issue here; were there maintenance logs kept? Risk Assessment matrices, etc? – quite informally, just to get some idea of the surrounding circumstances.
Mike replied, as follows:
—– Original Message —–
From: Mike Cockerill
Sent: Wednesday, April 04, 2012 6:53 PM
Subject: Re: Scoresby down
Thanks for the photos
I’ve had a report about the damage.
Options will be discussed.
Very polite, but dodging my questions.
But why? What could he possibly wish to conceal?
So I emailed again, suggesting that it really need not go as far as a formal Freedom of Information request; surely the people of Whitby are entitled to know if there is any substance to the rumours that the Scoresby Monument has been inadequately maintained, and, as a result of that, the Council’s public liability insurers may seek to withdraw indemnity, either for the damage itself, or for Public Safety – with all the likelihood of an ensuing legal action, funded from the public purse. This is surely a matter of public interest.
In plain language, Mike stiff-armed me. Here is his one-liner response: “Sorry Nigel I’m not entering into any more dialogue but I do appreciate you informing me of the incident last evening Cheers“
Now call me a cynic, but what I take from that is that Mike really does not want me to have any information that could find its way, through Real Whitby, into the public domain – for the very probable reason that it would once again demonstrate the almost inconceivably gross negligence and incompetence that has characterized SBC’s inaction on Whitby Harbour matters, over three or four decades.
And this is the man who capitalized his “I DO uphold the PM’s statement calling for transparency”.
I wonder now if Mike’s omission of the word ‘accountability’ was intentional.
Let is now consider two issues.
Firstly, if Mike Cockerill is entering into dialogue on this subject with anyone other than me, he is, ipso facto, exercising discrimination against me. Why would he want to do that?
Could it be, perhaps, because I have been emailing him in his official capacity at his SBC email address, asking him to explain how it is that he appears to have accepted an allowance from NYCC to finance his broadband connection whilst at the same time (and for the same broadband connection) accepted an allowance from SBC for the same purpose? He has not responded to these emails. In fairness, Mike is not alone in this little jig. Ten of the 13 ‘two-hatted’ Councillors appear to have done the same. It has every hallmark of being one of those ‘perks of the job’ situations – oddly reminiscent of the MPs’ expenses scandal. And Mike Cockerill does not respond.
Or perhaps it is because he is inimical to me for having pointed out that two of his appointed members on the Whitby Harbour Board have admitted to having written defamatory emails, on SBC letter-headings, to Whitby Town (Parish) Council and to the Town Mayor, Cllr John Freeman – clearly a flagrant breach of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct – a subject I have addressed elsewhere. The then Monitoring Officer of SBC, Ian Anderson (now with Hull Council), and his acting successor Ms Lisa Dixon, have also completely ignored my emails on this subject. Clearly, there is no will whatsoever in SBC to uphold the PM’s pledge for transparency or accountability, or to reuiore that members adhere to the Code of Conduct.
And, secondly, one cannot avoid the conclusion that the Whitby Harbour Board has once again shown itself to be a body signally lacking in both expertise and integrity. Our Piers and Extensions are in danger. We have lost two footbridges (to the Extensions), due to negligence – though one is scheduled to be replaced. Both of our Lighthouses are in appalling repair, closed to the public, and susceptible to collapse in extreme weather conditions. The Swing-Bridge is always a concern. And the poor old Scoresby Monument has quite literally already bitten the dust. The word from a WTC Councillor this morning is that it is not to be repaired. Perhaps it will be replaced, one would hope by something more dignified – and permanent.
And, really, Mike could so easily have replied, “No worries, Nigel. Everything is in order. I will have one of my staff forward the docs. Cheers. Mike.” He could have – but he did not. Why not?
So I will be submitting a formal Freedom of Information request to Scarborough Borough Council – and my information is that I will be far from alone in doing so. I will post it here in due course.
I have said it before: ‘accountability’ is not about blame. It is about acknowledging errors of judgement – learning from mistakes. The first step, Mike Cockerill, is to own up about them. Are you big enough to do that? Will your Officers allow you to?
You are the Chair of the Whitby Harbour Board, Mike. The buck stops with you. Unless, of course, you can shunt it off to someone else.
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- Pam Dobson
- Whitby Harbour Board Secrecy
- Whitby Harbour Board Lies Lies Lies
- Whitby Town Council – “In The Gutter”
- Town Council Thanks
- Whoose Complaining
- Whoose Complaining Now
- Harbour Board Letter