Irregularity Response Plan - Chief Executive Answering a Member’s Question at Full Council

The request was refused by Scarborough Borough Council.

Ge off Pickering

Dear Scarborough Borough Council,
There are certain principles of governance to which all Local Authorities must adhere. These are set down in law and Councils are required to transcribe them into their Constitutions.

Amongst these are the following requirements;

Officers must remain politically neutral and support all members of the Council equally.

That certain Officer positions, such as the Directorate and Chief Officer, are politically restricted.

That Officers may not take part in political meetings.

Officers cannot be Members of the Council they work for.

The role of the Chief Executive when attending meetings of the Council is as Clerk to the Council, advising the Chairman on Constitutional procedure and officiating as ‘Returning Officer’ during any votes.
These provisions are vital to the separation of the political and operational functions of a Council and to ensure proper scrutiny and accountability.

At the meeting of the Council held on 14th May 2018, Cllr Vanda Inman asked a question of the Portfolio Holder for Legal & Governance, Councillor John Nock (whose remit includes the Legal Services department), a question in relation to the powers held by the Council with regard to the prohibition of any given Councillor from attendance at meetings.

This question was raised under the provision of Article 11.2 of the Scarborough Borough Council Constitution.

This rule allows a question to be asked only of the Mayor, a Member of Cabinet or the Chairman of any Committee or Sub-Committee.

Article 11.4 sets out the only possible forms of response to Article 11.2 questions, these being:

An oral answer;
Reference to a publication;
A written answer;
A refusal to answer, or
Nomination of another MEMBER to answer (who may also refuse to answer).

Questions to Officers are therefore not permitted under these rules, nor may Officers reply to the questions, because:

a response from an Officer is not included in the prescribed forms of reply;

Officers are not, and cannot, be Members of the Council;

a formal Meeting of the Council is political; and

questioning the Mayor, Executive and Committee Chairman is, ipso facto, political activity.

It was, therefore, surprising that the Chief Executive answered the question, instead of the Member to whom the question had been addressed - or a nominated substitute Member.

As there appears to be no provision for the Chief Executive to intercede as he did.
the Chief Executive appears to be in breach of the Council's Constitution, both procedurally and under the terms of the Officers’ Code of Conduct.

The Executive Members not only accepted the intervention; they appeared to have agreed in advance for the Chief Executive to provide the response.

The Meeting was video-recorded. Should SBC have no direct constitutional provision over-riding the provisions of Article 11, the video-recording provides irrefutable evidence that:

the Chief Executive acted inappropriately and in breach of;

his contract;
the Council's Constitution;
the Officers' Code of Conduct; and
the standards set out for Local Government employees.

This would amount to gross misconduct in so much as:

Local Authority Chief Executives occupy a politically restricted position;
The Chief Executive has breached the Council's procedural rules in answering a political question in a political forum; and
The Chief Executive has breached neutrality by answering; and
The Chief Executive acted politically to deflect a question form the Ruling Group.

The question related to Chief Executive's own conduct. In choosing to answerer himself, he has acted to deliberately prevent an Elected Member of the Council from exercising their duty of right and proper scrutiny of his actions. The nature of the question - relating, as it does, to the possible illegal exercise of powers, or having acted illegally to disbar an Elected Member - addresses potentially criminal activity.

The Chief Executive has also failed in his statutory duty as Clerk to the Council to advise the Chairman of a gross breach of Constitutional procedure and the Council's adopted standards for Officer conduct.

The Chief Executive is not above the law or the Constitutional rules of the Council. His action has placed the Council at serious risk of adverse publicity.

I would therefore request that you provide me with the following information:

1) Under what Constitutional provision did the Chief Executive respond to the Councillor's question?

2) If no such provision exists, which Officers/Members are responsible for reporting the irregularity?

3) Has the irregularity been reported; and, if so, has a formal investigation been instigated?

4) Where an irregularity involves the Chief Executive, what provision is adopted to distance the Chief Executive from the investigation, thus to ensure that such investigation is not susceptible to undue influence.

Should no Officer, Member, nor member of the public have already reported the matter, please consider this statement to be Formal Notification of irregularity and advise me of your response in implementing an Irregularity Monitoring Plan under provisions 5.5b, 5.51.1 and 5.51.2 of the Constitution.

Yours faithfully,

Geoff Pickering

Ge off Pickering

Dear Scarborough Borough Council,

I have not yet received an acknowledgement for this request

Yours faithfully,

Geoff Pickering

FOI, Scarborough Borough Council

Dear Mr Pickering

Your correspondence has not been logged as a Freedom of Information Request and as such an FOI acknowledgement has not been sent. Your correspondence has been forwarded as a complaint for investigation by the Irregularity Response Team who will respond in due course.

Yours Sincerely

Freedom of Information Officer
Legal and Democratic Services
Scarborough Borough Council
e:  [Scarborough Borough Council request email]
t: 01723 232323
f: 0870 2384159

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Ge off Pickering

Dear FOI,
Thank you for forwarding and acknowledging the complaint element of this request. I look forward to hearing from Irregularity Response Team in due course.
I do however still require the information requested. I will therefore resubmit that part as a new FOI request which I trust you will accept and run in parallel to the compliant.

Yours sincerely,

Geoff Pickering

Ge off Pickering

Dear FOI,
Thank you for confirming this request is being treated as a complaint:
I have not yet received any correspondence whatsoever from the Irregularity Response Team Could you please advise as to the procedures and timescales they work to.

Yours sincerely,

Geoff Pickering

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