A Culture of Secrecy :
A Case In Particular
Councillor I., leader of Hull City Council and chairman of Humberside Police Authority, is currently (October 2004) under investigation by North Yorkshire Police over allegations that when he was a social worker in the 1980s, he sexually abused residents of the Gleneagles Childrens Home in Hull. His alleged victims include a Mr. W.
Mr. W. made his accusations of abuse public in national newspapers in September 2004. He has laid the further charge that Hull city council's Monitoring Officer is protecting Cllr. I. He believes that Cllr. I. should resign from all of his public posts immediately as; 'anything less will leave doubt in the minds of the public of the impartiality of any investigation'.
The above is background information. It has nothing to do directly with the Standards Board; but what follows does.
Councillor J., leader of Hull city council's Independents, 'blew the whistle' on the affair of Cllr. I. He immediately became the target of a shower of frivolous complaints about his conduct as a councillor. The complaints were made to the Standards Board for England by allies of Cllr. I. fellow councillors and the council's officers, e.g. the Monitoring Officer and staff in the legal department.
The problem with Mr. B. is that he is not very good at his job. He failed to identify himself by job title in his 'reply' to Cllr. J. and he failed to explain why he was replying to emails sent to other people.
Something else that he failed to do was read Cllr. J.'s email with any degree of care. As a result, his reply was generally irrelevant and unhelpful. It also contained what others among Mr. B.'s correspondents would recognize as a routine frightener in the form of a warning to take legal advice before 'putting information in the public domain'.
The public domain is always a problem for the Standards Board, which would be right at home in 18th Century Venice a time when the justice system had zero contact with the outside world. Giovanni Casanova, for instance, is famous (among other things) for being tossed into gaol on the basis of the sort of frivolous accusations which are the common currency of the present day Standards Board.
Councillors, local councils, government departments, commercial companies everyone has a code of conduct. Everyone but the Standards Board, that is. Nobody at the Standards Board is required to respond to phone calls 'within 5 rings'; or reply to (or acknowledge) correspondence 'within 24 hours'; or keep proper records; or even treat its customers with anything approaching common courtesy.
And if the Board can get away with labelling everything as confidential, there can be no failures and no abuses, and the public history of the Standards Board is only that which it puts on its own website.
What is needed desperately and urgently is for people with some clout to demand that the Standards Board's wings be clipped, and that the people who impose standards in public life be obliged to behave according to clearly defined, externally imposed standards of their own.
p.s. It is a closely guarded secret that complaints about the Standards Board can be made to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. But those who dare to exercise this right are subjected to further routine intimidation by the Board. Hot on the heels of a complaint comes a threat from the Standards Board of prosecution because its victim has divulged confidential information.