Ten councillors cleared by standards committee

Ten councillors reported for allegedly breaching the Code of Conduct for Members over allowances for IT and broadband expenses have been cleared by a standards committee.

Whitby resident, Nigel Ward, had alleged that Scarborough Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council members, Andrew Backhouse, John Blackburn, Bill Chatt, Mike Cockerill, David Jeffels, Janet Jefferson, Penny Marsden, Joe Plant, Peter Popple and Brian Simpson had in effect received two payments from the two authorities that covered a single expense and in doing so had breached the Code of Conduct.

Following a joint investigation carried out by legal officers from both authorities, however, a borough council standards committee made up of elected and independent members concluded there was “no dishonesty or illegality” and a breach had not taken place.

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It said this was because the £8,994 basic allowance from the county council did not define specific elements of expenditure, such as broadband or IT, but covered a multitude of expenses, some of which are incidental and often impossible to measure.

It was also pointed out during the open hearing at Scarborough Town Hall that none of the councillors had actually submitted a claim for these allowances, as members are automatically entitled to them.

A North Yorkshire County Council Standards Committee is due to meet later to consider the same reports.

Lisa Dixon, the borough council’s Head of Legal and Support Services, said: “In line with recommendations made by legal officers from both authorities, the standards committee concluded that the 10 members were fully entitled in accordance with the law and government guidance to receive both the basic allowance made available by North Yorkshire County Council and the internet/ICT allowance made available by the borough council and therefore did not act dishonestly in accepting both allowances.

“Accordingly, their actions do not constitute a breach of the code of conduct.”

The Communities and Local Government Guidance on Members’ Allowances says a basic allowance is “intended to recognise the time commitment of all councillors, including such inevitable calls on their time as meetings with officers and constituents and attendance at political group meetings. It is also intended to cover incidental costs such as the use of their homes.”

Earlier this year the borough council agreed to provide iPads for its members and after their introduction, Scarborough’s ICT and broadband allowance scheme has been changed and is now based on the reimbursement of actually incurred expenses, rather than an automatic allowance.