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Shamocracy or Democracy By Default

Here's a sorry tale about the state of local democracy in Sleights,
a village near Whitby in North Yorkshire.

Following an "in-depth study of public conveniences", Scarborough Borough Council's Street Scene Services Department decided to stop paying for the upkeep of the public toilets in the village, which has a fair tourist trade.

The Borough Council decided:
"The provision of public toilets by a local authority is not a statutory function and there is a significant cost implication in providing and maintaining the public toilets within the Borough, including costs associated with vandalism and misuse of toilets, which is a major problem in some areas. "

So the parish council leapt into action and decided to impose a parish precept to fund the care and maintenance of the toilets. One slight problem, setting a parish precept requires a favourable vote from the residents. So the parish council organized the vote with an extraordinary proviso:

If a resident failed to vote, the parish council would take over that person's voting right and cast a vote as the parish council thought fit.

The vote was held and, surprise! The parish precept was approved by a massive majority.

When our correspondent asked for a breakdown of the vote to find out who how many people had voted YES, how many had voted NO and how many had not voted at all and had a proxy vote cast by the parish council, his request for the information was refused.

He complained to the Standards Board for England [motto: Maintaining Confidence in Local Democracy] about this abuse of democracy. After three months of letter writing, evidence gathering, etc, the Standards Board finally ruled against him, deciding that it was "for the common good" that the voting figures had been concealed and our correspondent was a thoroughly bad person for bringing this matter to their attention.

The Standards Board's ruling including liberal use of the phrase Common Purpose which, our correspondend has noticed, is being used increasingly often in the apology for democracy created by 11 years of New Labour misrule.
Which leads us at Garbagegate to offer this advice:

If some politician, major or minor, starts talking about "Common Purpose", start looking for the swindle,
because you can be sure there's one on the way.


APPENDIX - LETTERS TO THE STANDARDS BOARD

Letter 1 to Standards Board

Dear Sir/Madam,

I feel I have to write to you to complain about a matter that has been bothering me for more than a year.

The background information is:- my local County Council ( Scarborough) , decided that in order to save money on upkeep, repairs to vandalism, etc., that they would close a small public toilet block in my village.

At this point, our Parish Council, led by a Mr. Eric Preston, decided to raise a petition in the village and ask how many residents were in favour of paying a local precept to keep the public toilets open.

Voting slips were made available, our local post office helped with the petition, and shortly after, it was announced that there was overwhelming support in the village to keep these toilets open.

( Not that the amount of votes cast for, or against, was ever made public!)
( as a matter of interest, it is now more than a year later, and they are still closed)

My complaint, in a nutshell is,
The wording on the voting form said
"Should you not reply, the Parish Councillors will assume that you are happy to leave the decision to them"

I said at the time, why on earth should any such assumption be made? The local people could vote for, or against.

But for the Parish council to take the votes of locals who expressed no choice and use those "votes" to pursue its own agenda strikes me as political opportunism, on a grand scale!

Apply the same principal to a General Election, do we then see the party in government taking the votes of all people who did not vote, on the assumption, that, because the "voters" expressed no opinion, they were quite happy to have their votes taken in this fashion?

It is not surprising then, that by "cashing in " on local apathy, and stealing the votes of those people who expressed no opinion, they were able to announce "overwhelming support" for their pet project!

I take great exception to the wording, and the way in which these "votes" were hijacked!

I enclose a copy of a letter, I sent to the Clerk of the Parish Council, at the time.
( I did not receive a reply addressing my concerns,it was just ignored)

The Chairman of the Parish Council at the time was Mr. Eric Preston.
(He still sits on the Parish Council, but as a councillor.)

The Clerk of the Parish Council is Mrs. Anne Stevenson

I do hope you will raise this matter with my local Parish Council, I am not the only one to feel uneasy about the way these votes were hijacked to support a pet project at the time. Or that the votes for/against/or stolen were never published.

Yours Sincerely

 

"Itís not who votes that counts, itís who counts the votes"


Letter 2 to Standards Board

Ref.:- SBE16795.06

Dear Sir/Madam,

It was with dismay that I received your letter today informing me of your decision not to refer my complaint to an investigation, and I would like to exercise my right to appeal this decision, and have the chief Executive review the case.

"Confidence in local democracy is a cornerstone of our way of life. It can only be achieved when elected and co-opted members of local authorities are seen to live up to the high standards the public has a right to expect from them"

This statement is taken from your website, and I believe there has been a significant reduction of the standards expected of the local Parish Council .

Their behaviour in this matter is covered by the code of conduct, and the 2 reasons specified below I believe have been breached.

1) Using their position improperly, to their own or someone else's advantage or disadvantage

2) Taking part in a meeting or making a decision where they have an interest that is so significant that it is likely to affect their judgement

The Original complaint still stands.
The Parish Council decided to have a vote on a matter affecting a local issue, the result of this vote would see parishioners subjected to a precept on the local parish tax.
But the fact that anyone not voting, those votes would be taken by the Parish Council as a yes vote strikes me as unfair, unjust and intolerable in a democratic vote.

The number of votes for were never published
The number of votes against were never published
And the number of votes that the parish council hijacked were never published

The statement on the voting form "Should you not reply, the Parish Councillors will assume that you are happy to leave the decision to them" I regard as a gross abuse of democratic trust.

What is the point in having a vote, when the Parish Council had already made their minds up on the outcome they wanted, and decided on this mechanism to assure their agenda was successful, contrary to Rule1 and 2 above?

If this mechanism were to be accepted as normal practice, we have a situation where the government of the day could ensure power in perpetuity by taking the votes of those citizens who did not vote, and taking them as a yes vote.

I regard this whole episode as not only failing to meet the standards expected, but also as downright dishonest.

The Parish Council were even published in our local newspaper where the statement that "the village overwhelmingly supported the Parish Council" appeared.

This was not true, the Overwhelming support materialised from the non voters, whose votes were taken by the Parish Council as a Yes vote.

Once again I state, if the Parish Council had made up their minds as to the outcome of the vote that fitted in with their agenda, they chose the perfect mechanism to ensure success.

"Confidence in local democracy" is your mantra.

I do not have any!

Yours Sincerely

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