Leader's Letter re appointment of Local Democracy Reporter

Peter Lilley made this Freedom of Information request to Harrogate Borough Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was successful.

Dear Harrogate Borough Council
I understand that the Leader of Harrogate Borough Council, Coun Richard Cooper, sent a formal letter to Jean MacQuarrie, the Editor of the Harrogate Advertiser, on or around June 4, 2018, offering his opinion on my appointment as the BBC’s Harrogate-based Local Democracy Reporter.
I gather that Coun Cooper took the opportunity to make Ms MacQuarrie aware of instructions he allegedly relayed to Cabinet colleagues and senior Council officers concerning how they should respond to any requests for information or comment they might receive from me in the context of my new role.
Since this was an official letter which would appear to relate not only to press freedom but also the Council’s commitment under its Constitution to be “open, transparent and fully accountable,” I am asking that this letter should be placed in the public domain as soon as possible.
This will allow residents of this Borough to form their own judgement not only about the contents of the letter but also the likely motivation of the Leader of the Council in choosing to send such a communication.
Yours faithfully
Peter Lilley

Foi, Harrogate Borough Council

Dear Mr Lilley

 

Thank you for your email which we received on 11/07/2018. We are treating
this as a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act
2000. This means that —

 

o if we need more information about what you want, we will contact you
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We will respond to your request promptly, and in any event, within the 20
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Regards

 

Rich Kemp

(Debt & Information Law)

Legal & Governance

Harrogate Borough Council

PO Box 787

Harrogate

HG1 9RW

 

tel: 01423 500600 (ext - 58602)

email:  [1][email address]

[2]www.harrogate.gov.uk

 

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Rich Kemp, Harrogate Borough Council

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Dear Mr Lilley

 

Thank you for your email requesting information under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000. In response please find attached the correspondence
(email) which you refer to.

 

If you are not satisfied with the way your request has been handled,
please contact -  

 

Freedom of Information Officer, PO Box 787, Harrogate, HG1 9RW

 

or email [1][Harrogate Borough Council request email]

 

The Council has an internal appeal system.  If your complaint is about the
decision which has been made you will usually be entitled to have your
case reviewed by an officer from a department which has not been involved
in the decision previously.   

 

If, after their decision, you are still not happy, you may appeal to-  

 

The Information Commissioner

Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF

Tel: 0303 123 1113

website: [2]https://ico.org.uk/

 

Regards

 

Rich Kemp

(Debt & Information Law)

Legal & Governance

Harrogate Borough Council

PO Box 787

Harrogate

HG1 9RW

 

tel: 01423 500600 (ext - 58602)

email:  [3][email address]

[4]www.harrogate.gov.uk

 

show quoted sections

Peter Lilley left an annotation ()

I am grateful to Harrogate Council’s legal department for supporting my FOI submission and deciding that Coun Cooper’s letter should be placed in the public domain so that all residents of the Borough now have the opportunity to form a view about its contents and the likely motivation of the Leader of the Council in choosing to send such a communication.
It really is a quite extraordinary letter which will perhaps raise questions about Coun Cooper’s character and judgement.
I believe it would be inappropriate enough for a council leader to intervene and publicly pass comment on any external appointment but to do so in relation to a role specifically concerned with holding to account the council that he leads is, to my mind, completely unacceptable in every way. And it’s not as if he offered a restrained, measured, thoughtful contribution. What we have is a clumsy concoction of inaccurate statements and entirely unsubstantiated allegations with a dash of innuendo thrown in for good measure.
I therefore believe it’s necessary to respond directly (and publicly) to at least some of the points he makes:
1. Coun Cooper refers to my “potential” appointment. It wasn’t potential. I was offered the job on April 25, 2018 and confirmed my acceptance in writing the following day. So this is Coun Cooper seeking to undermine the credibility of a candidate chosen after a thorough and impartial selection process.
2. Coun Cooper talks of the appointment being “unacceptable to me” – inferring it would seem that he should have been consulted in advance and/or that his objection should somehow be a matter of concern for the Harrogate Advertiser; and that its editor should act upon his criticism – and correct matters.
3. Although Coun Cooper acknowledges it is up to the newspaper to decide who it employs and in what capacity, he nevertheless announces that neither he nor any other Cabinet member will assist me with information or comment; i.e deliberately obstruct me from performing the role I was appointed to.
4. Coun Cooper claims I have “trashed relationships with politicians and also with groups across the district” but notably, doesn’t specifically name those politicians or indeed the groups. He also claims that some of these groups “will also refuse to cooperate with him.” Again, he doesn’t name those who, supposedly, won’t cooperate.
5. Coun Cooper refers to separate emails he claims I sent him and Harrogate Borough Council Chief Executive Wallace Sampson on June 21, 2016. Coun Cooper claims this was an attempt by me to play off the two against each other in the hope of obtaining different responses and then using that information against them. Incorrect. Coun Cooper is an elected councillor; Mr Sampson is a Council officer. They should have entirely different roles and therefore it seemed reasonable to me that I should write to both of them. And what Coun Cooper fails to mention is that just ten days after that correspondence, an external barrister confirmed what I had argued for a substantial period of time that Harrogate Council had been operating a discriminatory admissions policy (against men) at the town’s Turkish Baths for 4.5 years – in breach of both the Equality Act 2010 and the Council’s own equalities policy. This intervention by the barrister led directly to men-only bathing sessions being reintroduced in September 2016. What is disappointing is that Mr Sampson has never provided a full explanation (let alone an apology) as to how he could possibly have been unaware that the council he supposedly heads operated in breach of equalities legislation for such an extended period. It is also worth noting that at the meeting of the full Harrogate Council on July 19, 2017 Coun Cooper sought to prevent me from asking any further questions in relation to the matter. In response to my Public Question he replied: “As far as I am concerned this matter is closed and no council officer, nor any member of the administration will be responding to any further communication on this subject with Mr Lilley.”
6. Coun Cooper claimed that I referred to Caroline Bayliss as a “self-appointed Empress of Harrogate.” This is misleading. This reference to Ms Bayliss was not in her capacity as Chair of the destination management organisation VisitHarrogate, but in her former capacity as the Harrogate Borough Council cabinet member for culture who made the highly-controversial decision to end the century-old tradition of men-only bathing sessions at the Turkish Baths. Coun Bayliss claimed at the time that: “My job is to uphold the reputation of Harrogate and that I will do my damnedest to do.” In a subsequent email to Coun Cooper, I suggested that it wasn’t Ms Bayliss’ duty to defend the reputation of Harrogate. She was a councillor, not the self-appointed Empress of Harrogate!
7. Coun Cooper claims I made a formal complaint to the Standards Committee about Coun Rebecca Burnett for “not treating Mr Lilley’s emails to her with respect.” This is nonsense. I made a formal complaint against Coun Burnett on the grounds that she misled residents in relation to the public consultation on the proposed Harrogate Town Centre Strategy & Masterplan. It is perhaps worth reminding Coun Cooper that the Standards Panel upheld my complaint that Coun Burnett had made misleading statements which placed her in breach of the principle of openness – and that she apologized.
8. Coun Cooper claims that I have “targeted” other Cabinet members via letters to the Harrogate Advertiser, on Twitter and at council meetings, notably Coun Stanley Lumley and Coun Graham Swift. But he provides no details and therefore I am unable to comment.
9. Similarly, Coun Cooper makes the very serious accusation that a “community leader” claimed he “believed” I have views about women “that cannot be tolerated.” This allegation is outrageous as it’s based on unspecific, undated, unattributable comments from an unnamed person.