Hull's Independent councillors take on the Standards Board for England as they fight back against intimidation by their council's officers.
The paid officers of Kingston upon Hull city council have been allowed to develop an over-inflated sense of their own importance. As a result, they feel entitled to shop Independent councillors to the Standards Board for England when the Independents dare to notice that the officers are failing to do their jobs properly.
Town hall flunkies are bombarding the SBfE with frivolous complaints. As a result, the Independents have to put up with telephone harassment from the SBfE's alleged investigators; people whose lack of political understanding and sloppy practices have been exposed elsewhere on this website (see any item with 'Kangaroo' in the title).
As a result of this abuse by the council's hirelings, Hull's Independent councillors are planning to lobby MPs and members of the House of Lords and then hold a demonstration in London. They are objecting to the way "Faceless bureaucrats in The Standards Board for England now have the power to recommend that those elected by local government electors should be removed from office, or suspended from office, for the most trivial of offences".
The problem, as the Hull Independents see it, is that New Labour has encouraged gangs of petty bureaucrats to take on new careers as Ethical Standards Officers. These people see themselves in the role of the 'Lord Justices in Ordinary' and they are more than willing rush any sort of complaint from a council officer to the Standards Board. Worse, the Standards Board then hands down rulings which are entirely arbitrary and bear no relation to any recognizable code of justice.
Independent Councillor Nadene Burton, was shopped to the SBfE for:
- Producing an election leaflet staying that her constituents believed housing officers were dragging their feet over dealing with antisocial behaviour.
- Daring to send out another newssheet during the election containing a reproduction of a letter sent by housing officers to other political groups complaining about Councillor Burton.
- Writing to officers warning them of the dangers of becoming involved in an election, or being seen to influence the results of an election, in accordance with the rules contained within the Representation Of The People Act.
Councillor Burton's reward for standing up to stroppy council officers was to be suspended from office for 5 months.
A Hull councillor dared to tell a council meeting that the city council needed a chief executive officer of proven ability. The council's Monitoring Officer threatening to him shop him to the SbfE if he didn't offer a grovelling apology to the full council, and the councillor had to pay for the services of a barrister, who sorted the Monitoring Officer out.
Another councillor, who dared to complain about the Monitoring Officer's failure to declare an interest in a local development, was reported to the SBfE for his cheek.
A potential Independent candidate for the council had the cheek to ask searching questions about the probity of a number of housing decisions. So senior housing officer contacted his employers and he got the sack.
Independent Councillor Chris Jarvis collects complaints by the truckload for standing up to the Housing Department on behalf of Council Taxpayers. His many offences include 'arguing with an officer' and the sort of 'verbals' which brought the police into such disrepute back in the 20th Century. Things like Inspector Slag telling a court "While driving the defendant to the police station, Your Honour, he said: 'It's a fair cop, Gov'nor, you got me bang to rights, I dunnit.'" And the inspector expecting to be believed over a criminal suspect because of his position.
Interestingly, the SBfE's website (not exactly a model of updating) lists 17 judgements on Hull councillors (some of whom are repeat offenders). Most of the cases involved the notorious phrase: A member failed to treat others with respect. In 16 cases, the ruling was 'no action need be taken'. The 17th case was that of Councillor Burton, who has been suspended until December, 2004.
The 'no action' rulings suggest that the complaints to the SBfE were so frivolous that even the quango-fodder of the kangaroo court were able to see through them. But does the kangaroo court complain about being bombarded with frivolous complaints? Well, no, it doesn't actually. Why? Because investigating frivolous complaints against councillors gives the people involved at every level of the SBfE the illusion of having useful employment.
These characters can draw large salaries out of the public purse and create mountains of paperwork. And while they do so, Independent councillors can be subjected to legal harassment by the SBfE's investigators, knowing that if they fall into line and stop pointing out the failings of Hull city council's officers, the intimidation attempts will cease.
On the one hand, we have a system which encourages town hall officers to seek revenge for imagined slights, or pursue political vendettas, by reporting councillors to the SBfE. On the other hand, we have the SBfE busily building its empire at the taxpayer's expense and wasting public resources on 'investigating' then pronouncing on entirely trivial 'cases'.
All this amounts to malice feeding bureaucracy and bureaucracy dining off malice New Labour's idea of a perfect political circle?
Hull, part of which is represented at Westminster by our bruiser of a Deputy Prime Minister, remains a permanent fixture at the bottom of the National League tables in Education. Housing has lost its only 'star' and is classified as 'poor'. It is clear that whatever the council's officers are doing, it's not the job they're being paid to do. And one of the reasons why they are not delivering value for money to Hull's overstretched Council Tax payers is that they are too busy bombarding the SBfE with frivolous complaints to do much else.
Further evidence that the Hull council's officers are way too full of themselves was provided by one of the council's Corporate Directors, who ordered the Independents to remove the "Councillor Burton Story" from their website.
Prince Hamlet got it exactly right when he talked about 'the insolence of office'.
p.s. Hull's Director Of Education has offered a special report to a cabinet meeting on the future of biscuits. She discussed the appropriateness of councillors and members of the public being served biscuits with their tea and coffee during meetings. Nice to know the council has such a solid grip on its priorities for education.
Freedom of speech in the People's Republic of Hull is not dead, just slumbering.