On Friday 19th April 2013, the Whitby Gazette published an article entitled “North Yorkshire County Council admits Me Too! Scheme was flawed”.
The article refers to a summarised redaction of the report provide by North Yorkshire County Council Head of Legal & Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer Carole DUNN, after two years of persistent requests under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
The Whitby Gazette article, having outlined one or two of the administrative shortcomings surrounding the roll-out of the “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme (intended to provide extracurricular learning-opportunities to under-privileged school-children at a 75% discount, but described by one County Councillor as “a licence to print money”), continues by citing the following snippet from the report:
“The controls in the scheme did not provide effective limitation of the nature and cost of provision by providers resulting in the submission of one very high claim.”
It goes on to report that there had been a payment to Esk Leisure for £113,822.
What the Whitby Gazette article omits to lay bear is that the provider referred to as ‘Esk Leisure’ is rather better known as “Mini Monsterz” – where the opportunity to paint pots attracted many “Me Too!” Voucher users. One wonders how many kids have to paint how many pots to run up a bill of £113,822 (if the pot-painting ran out at £10 a time, 11,382 kids must presumably have had a go!) – or, indeed, how legitimate an “extracurricular learning-opportunity” pot-painting actually is (as compared, say, to swimming lessons, photography, conversational French, model-engineering, or whatever).
The Gazette article also neglects to mention the circumstances in which Mini Monsterz achieved approved provider status, on whose decision, and with what background checks. It also omits to mention the identity of the County Councillor – a member of the NYCC Children & Young People Scrutiny Committee – who, according to two School Governors and an informer within NYCC, pressed NYCC for settlement of a considerably larger amount than anticipated when NYCC suspended payments pending investigation.
In County Councillor Joe PLANT’s own words (in an email dated 2nd April 2011):
- “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.”
Only when County Councillor Joe PLANT’s family relationship to the Mini Monsterz emerged did he declare a personal interest in that business, in virtue of his son’s marital status (husband of the business-operators’ daughter). That was on 16th February 2011 – fourteen months after County Councillor Joe PLANT had promoted the “Me Too!” Vouchers Scheme in the Gazette of 25th November 2009 in the following words:
- “The Me Too vouchers are there for you and to help you. In the simplest terms use them or lose them.”
County Councillor Joe PLANT held an undisclosed personal interest for over a year, finally making his required-by-law declaration only when the astonishing extent of the Scheme’s many abuses, including forgery and fraud, were already under investigation by NYCC.
In the same email as quoted above, County Councillor Joe PLANT conceded that:
- “Vouchers are photo copied, forged and even sold on to other people.”
Clearly, County Councillor Joe PLANT’s position in respect of his conduct regarding the “Me Too!” Voucher Scheme is completely untenable. He failed to declare a disclosable personal interest for 14 months. He lobbied on behalf of providers – residents of another division (County Councillor Jane KENYON’s division) – for payment, although forgery and fraud had already been identified within the delivery of the Scheme. And yet since 3rd April 2011, he has refused point-blank to account for his actions, stating:
- “Please note that this has being[sic] copied into the Legal Officer of the County Council and any further emails on this matter will be passed on and I will reply in the same manner.”
County Councillor Joe PLANT responded to the ‘Transparency Pledge’ Questionnaire (September 2010) thus:
- “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”
“Me Too!” articles:
This Gazette article quotes Councillor Joe PLANT, thus:
- “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”.
NYCC’s Standards Committee Decision Notice was published six months ago – on the next working-day following the Whitby Gazette article – but County Councillor Joe PLANT’s “frank and honest statement” has yet to materialise.
The comments section of this article is intended to be a public record of the work, good or bad, that this Councillor has done on behalf of the public. Please post only factual comments relating to County Councillor Joe PLANT’s past conduct so that the public can judge if he is worth re-electing.
Other Double-Dipping Articles:
[NW & TT]