Tuesday, 4 April 2017

TORY LEADER BRANDED ‘FAKE NEWS CHAMPION’ AS LABOUR CHALLENGE TORY COUNTY HALL CAMPAIGN


Tory ‘stitch up’ to stop County Hall move may see hundreds of jobs and services lost to county market towns

Two Northumberland Labour Councillors representing wards in Ashington and Blyth have submitted a standards complaint to Northumberland County Council after branding local Conservatives led by Cllr Peter Jackson as ‘purveyors of fake news’. The councillors are challenging Conservative claims that a move from County Hall in Morpeth to a smaller ‘hub’ in Ashington would cost £80m when council officers confirmed the move would cost no more than £32m with hundreds of council jobs and services being returned to market towns like Alnwick, Berwick, Hexham, Bedlington, Newbiggin, Blyth, Ashington, Morpeth and Prudhoe.

Cllrs Brian Gallacher (Haydon ward in Ashington) and Cllr Gordon Webb (Isabella ward in Blyth) have submitted a formal complaint under the county council’s constitution and standards procedures against Cllr Jackson and his Conservative group of councillors for ‘knowingly misleading the public about the true cost of County Hall’. The council’s code of conduct which all councillors sign up to makes it an offence to ‘bring the council into disrepute’. The complaint alleges that the Conservative party have continued to mislead the public about the cost of the new ‘hub’ in Ashington even though as far back as Dec 2016, Cllr Jackson was publicly admonished by the council’s CEO and s151 officer Steven Mason over the use of inaccurate information. The £80m ‘fake news’ story has been repeated and reprinted on a number of social media sites including Morpeth Matters which is administered by senior Conservatives and their supporters.  

The decision on a planning application for the County Hall site has also been called in by Conservative Secretary of State Sajid Javed in a move branded as ‘blatantly politically motivated’ by Labour group leader Grant Davey. He went on to describe the call in as a ‘political hijacking by politicians set on dividing communities’.

Cllr Gallacher said

“Cllr Jackson has and is engaging in ‘fake news’ on County Hall in a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. His councillors repeat this ‘fake news’. My town and other market towns stand to benefit from the move from Morpeth and it’s time Cllr Jackson and his party were held to account for their blatant attempts to mislead the public”.

Cllr Webb said

“Every councillor signs up to a code of conduct and while they are councillors they should adhere to it. Local Tories now aided by their government seem to be intent on spreading their own version of ‘fake news’ about County Hall. I’m urging that they are held to account for a blatant misrepresentation of the facts. They’ve been corrected in public by the independent CEO about the use of ‘fake figures’ yet they continue to use ‘fake news’ to peddle their brand of setting communities against each other. They’re bringing the council into disrepute”.  

End

 

Notes

Extract from Council Minutes of Meeting 6 Dec 2016

In view of the comments which had been made, the Business Chair asked the Chief Executive to respond. Mr Mason advised members that the reports produced and considered by Council had been signed off by both himself as the S151 officer and Mr Henry as the monitoring officer, and he reminded members that they both were held to account by their professional bodies. He was satisfied that the proposal would provide value for money and revenue savings over the length of the scheme.
The £80m figure being quoted in the press was categorically incorrect; the capital cost of the scheme was in the order of £32m and the projected capital receipt was far in excess of the original estimate following the marketing exercise. He assured members that officers had done the analysis professionally, correctly and in accordance with guidelines.

 

COMPLAINT UNDER NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY COUNCIL CODE OF CONDUCT AGAINST CLLR PETER JACKSON – LEADER OF THE CONSERVATIVE GROUP ON NCC AND NORTHUMBERLAND CONSERVATIVE GROUP OF COUNCILLORS

Where

At a meeting of Full Council held at Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth NE61

  • In Northumberland, Conservative Group Manifesto
  • In Northumberland, Conservative Group printed and online material distributed from Dec 2016 to date

When

6th Dec 2016 to date

Complaint

That Cllr Jackson sought to deliberately ignore advice from Chief Executive Steven Mason during a motion tabled by Cllr Jackson on behalf of the Conservative group specifically about the actual cost of new council HQ in Ashington. He has subsequently allowed the actual cost of the HQ as an example of ‘fake news’ to be circulated by his party and group of Councillors across the whole county in the form of social media postings, leaflets, surveys and other literature.

He has brought his role into disrepute and brought the council into disrepute. The Conservative group of Councillors have also brought their individual roles under the code of conduct into disrepute.  

Cllr Jackson repeatedly (three times) ignored advice from the Chief Officer (who is also s151 officer for NCC) to refrain from misleading the public over the cost of the new council HQ (£32m) instead continuously referring to the cost as ‘£80m’ even when informed that figure ‘deliberately mislead the public’.

Extract from Minutes of Meeting 6 Dec 2016

In view of the comments which had been made, the Business Chair asked the Chief Executive to respond. Mr Mason advised members that the reports produced and considered by Council had been signed off by both himself as the S151 officer and Mr Henry as the monitoring officer, and he reminded members that they both were held to account by their professional bodies. He was satisfied that the proposal would provide value for money and revenue savings over the length of the scheme.
The £80m figure being quoted in the press was categorically incorrect; the capital cost of the scheme was in the order of £32m and the projected capital receipt was far in excess of the original estimate following the marketing exercise. He assured members that officers had done the analysis professionally, correctly and in accordance with guidelines.

 

Cllr Jackson deliberately sought to mislead the public about the cost of new council HQ in Ashington despite being advised by the CEO on three separate occasions that he was using an incorrect figure for the true cost of the building. Cllr Jackson has subsequently continued to use the incorrect figure of £80m outside the council chamber specifically in local newspapers Morpeth Herald, Northumberland Gazette, News Post Leader, the Journal and the Evening Chronicle and on TV and news bulletins. The use of the false cost of the new HQ can be found on social media sites used by Cllr Jackson for party political purposes.  

As leader of the Conservative group, Cllr Jackson has allowed members of his group to continue to use the false figure and as such, as actively sought to mislead the public. Evidence of the extent of the effect of his misleading statements can be found in letters to local newspapers and posts on various social media sites used on behalf of Cllr Jackson’s political party. The ‘false news’ claim relating to the cost of the new council HQ has been repeated and widely circulated through leaflets, surveys and other literature.

Cllr Jackson has therefore brought his office into disrepute by deliberately misleading the public about the true cost of a council policy, properly adopted under the council constitution. This has had significant reputational damage on Northumberland County Council. His group of councillors have propagated the ‘fake news’ and as such are in breach of members Code of Conduct.

Given Cllr Jackson is leader of the Conservative group and deliberately ignored advice by the CEO and S151 officer at the meeting, it should be deemed that his deliberately misleading actions should be seen as excessive and disproportionate and should be seen as a more significant breach of the Code of Conduct. 

Complaint under NCC Code of Conduct

As a member, Cllr Jackson and his Conservative group is subject to the Statutory Code of Conduct adopted by NCC and signed by Cllr Jackson that;

Part 1 - General Conduct

4. You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing the Council, or your office as a member of the Council, into disrepute.

6. You must comply with any Protocol adopted by the Council which seeks to regulate the conduct of its elected members or co-opted members and which the Council has specifically declared should fall within the provisions of this code of conduct and which is listed in Annex 4 to this Code.

Cllr Jackson failed to comply with;

Protocol on Member/Officer relations

Preamble to Chapter 4 NCC Constitution relating to complaint against Cllr Jackson

 1.2 The Council has adopted Codes of conduct for both officers and Members.  The Protocol also seeks to reflect the principles underlying the respective Codes of Conduct which apply to Members and officers.  The shared objective of these Codes is to enhance and maintain the integrity (real and perceived) of local government and the Codes, therefore, demand very high standards of personal conduct.

1.3 Members and officers must at all times observe this Protocol.  This Protocol is a local extension of the Members’ and Employees’ Codes of Conduct.  Consequently, a breach of the provisions of this Protocol may also constitute a breach of those Codes.

2.14 Members must avoid taking actions which are unlawful, financially improper or likely to amount to maladministration.  Members have an obligation under their code of conduct to have regard, when reaching decisions, to any advice provided by the Monitoring Officer or the Chief Finance Officer.

2.15 Members must respect the impartiality of officers and do nothing to compromise it, e.g. by insisting that an officer change his/her professional advice.

6.5 Certain statutory officers – the Lead Executive Director as Head of Paid Service, the Monitoring Officer and the Section 151 Officer or his/her deputy – have specific roles.  These are addressed in the Constitution.  The roles need to be understood and respected by all Members

19.0 Publicity and press releases

Publicity should be factual and designed to raise public awareness and its primary purpose must not be to persuade members of the public to hold a particular view on a matter of policy.

Records and Information Management Policies

Cllr Jackson and his Conservative Group of councillors have ignored council decisions and has ignored a number of independent reports generated which substantiate the council position on the cost of the new HQ set out by the CEO/S151 officer.

They have also disregarded the professional advice of the CEO/S151 officer as demonstrated in the extract from the Minutes of 6 Dec 2016

In view of the comments which had been made, the Business Chair asked the Chief Executive to respond. Mr Mason advised members that the reports produced and considered by Council had been signed off by both himself as the S151 officer and Mr Henry as the monitoring officer, and he reminded members that they both were held to account by their professional bodies. He was satisfied that the proposal would provide value for money and revenue savings over the length of the scheme.
The £80m figure being quoted in the press was categorically incorrect; the capital cost of the scheme was in the order of £32m and the projected capital receipt was far in excess of the original estimate following the marketing exercise. He assured members that officers had done the analysis professionally, correctly and in accordance with guidelines.

 

 

 

 

No comments:

Post a Comment