Cllr Alan Dean

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Stansted North on Uttlesford District Council and former Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group Learn more

The beginning of the end of populism? (III): A DENIAL OF STANDARDS IN PUBLIC LIFE

by Alan Dean on 9 December, 2020

In my over 34 years as a councillor at Uttlesford District Council, I have not witnessed worse behaviour by councillors than occurred last night (Tues, December 8th).

All Residents for Uttlesford councillors, together with their four ‘independent’ allies, acted badly by failing to vote to reaffirm the Council’s commitment to the twenty-five-year-old Standards of Conduct in Public Life Principles viz. Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.

Some even voted to suppress discussion on the subject. Several Members were prevented from speaking in support for these principles; akin to behaviour under a totalitarian regime. There was much barracking from R4U Members that was improperly permitted.

Those who failed to live up to these foundational principles of good public service even included the Chairman of the Council, Cllr Martin Foley.

The Council’s Code of Conduct system is in tatters. I have this morning resigned from the Council’s Standards Committee until Uttlesford restores its reputation for observing Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.

I was one of those councillors denied the opportunity to speak because of weak chairmanship that kow-towed to the authoritarian demands from Residents for Uttlesford (the majority party in authoritarian control) councillors to suppress discussion on the grounds that they wanted to get on with voting against these ethical standards and weren’t interested in hearing what those who believe in them had to say. The chairman failed to follow the constitutional requirement to consider whether “the item has been sufficiently discussed”. He should have known better. He received poor officer advice.

Here are some key points from the speech I was prevented from giving:

  • The Council’s Code of Corporate Governance requires openness, the highest standards of ethics and probity, following accounting rules endorsed by the Council’s external auditors.
  • A claim by a senior Member that this is a procedural matter for our employees, the officers of this Council, to sort out are false. This is casting a shadow over us all.
  • The Council’s auditors will not sign off the Council’s accounts for 2019/20 because they have been unable to confirm that the Chief Executive and the Leader of the Council would be acting properly, as things stand, were they to sign the Annual Governance Statement.
  • Members know where the problem lies but seem to be in denial. They should not turn a blind eye. That would be a failure of their individual fiduciary duty.
  • Kent and Essex Police’s Serious Crime Directorate are saying that they have opened a new investigation file, after having closed a case started in March 2020.
  • These issues are not ones that can be brushed aside as “party politicking”; as some Members have misguidedly sought to do. They go to the heart of whether or not this Council is being run with integrity.
  • The police are investigating allegations of a criminal nature. It is right and proper that the person or persons under investigation stand aside from positions of influence within the organisation until proved either innocent or guilty.

My full, suppressed and undelivered speech can be read here.

   3 Comments

3 Responses

  1. Jim Ketteridge says:

    Alan, despite the fact that we have crossed swords politically across the council chamber many times I must agree with you on this. I have never witnessed an Uttlesford District Council meeting such as the one to which you refer that took place on 8th December 2020.

    The period set aside for councillors to question the Leader and his cabinet was guilotined despite their being councillors waiting to ask questions. R4U Cllr Coote jumped in to close down the session. Then on item after item written responses to questions were promised thus denying members of the public, who had taken the time to listen, the answers to questions put.

    The response from the R4U Leader of the Council to a question from Cllr Loughlin was nothing short of rude and evasive. So much for the R4U claim to be open and transparent in their dealings.

    Then when the cross party motion on standards in public life came up the result was inevitable as R4U were not going to allow a debate and sought only to keep under wraps whatever it is that is preventing the Councils Auditors from signing off the Annual Governance Statement and Accounts.

    Despite the fact that there were a number of Lib Dem, Conservative and Green Councillors who had put their name to the motion witing to speak, they were denied that opportunity because of the clearly pre-determined motion to close down the debate made by Cllr Freeman. The Chairman Cllr Foley was clearly uncomfortable throughout this meeting but went along with the R4U directions.

    I would recommend that electors watch and listen to this meeting that fully demonstrated the hypocrisy of R4U. I hope that when the investigations into whatever is being investigated are complete and if it is found that there is a case to answer – all R4U Councillors should resign en-block for their efforts at covering it up. Oh, and I thought we had been told there was no whip on R4U councillors but did I see a pained look on the faces of a few of them as they declared their vote.

    In a period spanning 36 years between 1979 and 2015 that I was an Uttlesford Conservative Councillor I have never seen such goings on.

  2. Daniel Brett says:

    Will this set a precedent? Motions the leadership doesn’t like will be moved immediately to a vote with little or no debate?

    As a resident and council tax payer, I am dismayed that answers to questions are batted away with the promise of “written answers” that I won’t necessarily be able to see. I can understand the reasons when Cllr Hargreaves is asked questions on numbers that he won’t have at hand, but this should be the exception.

    The push to get through a meeting because there’s too much on the agenda indicates that the chamber is overwhelmed with business. There has to be a balance between efficient conduct of business and the need to scrutinise and debate – the previous council meeting was ridiculously long and rambling at over four hours, while this one was marching through business at speed (although frivolous points of order that were not points of order just frustrated business). However, the working group set up to discuss governance arrangements has been put on ice and doesn’t appear to have concluded its mission.

    The guillotining of debate also affects public involvement. The chair denied me the opportunity to speak, as a member of the public, on sports in Stansted. I know that two working days notice were needed, but I didn’t realise that a working day at UDC ends at noon and I was just out of time with my request. Cllr Foley could have allowed my brief three-minute presentation, but he claimed there was “too much business to discuss”. I wasn’t going to be critical of the administration or make a party political point. I wanted to set out the challenges we face as a community and the hope that UDC will work with local sports groups to avoid the kind of problems faced in Saffron Walden with Persimmons’ failure to deliver youth football facilities and the PFI governing the Stansted leisure centre which is preventing the school from delivering more sports facilities for its students and the wider community. As a parish councillor, I wanted the opportunity to raise these concerns on behalf of the community and feel I am being gagged, while district councillors are free to rant and rave off-topic as much as they like and for as long as they like. As the council leader has said he will ignore all communications from me (as if speaking to him is a privilege to be earned and not a right), there is little point in raising this in public participation at the next cabinet meeting.

    I am totally dispirited by the state of local politics. It feels as if progress is always one step forward and two steps back. You feel like you’re getting somewhere, then everything is shut down on you. What’s the point in being active at all? There are a hundred other things I can do with my time that would probably be more fulfilling and which can achieve something.

    This is a dysfunctional council at its lowest ebb. Working relationships are broken, public faith is diminishing amid all the spats in the local press, the level of hatred and animosity between members is evident in the Zoom meetings, and everyone is seeking mutual recrimination. The question is whether there is a neutral arbitrator within the council who could calm things, who could restore some semblance of order and respect among councillors and with the general public who they are supposed to serve. I don’t know who that can be as the council is so heavily polarised with personal acrimony. This situation cannot continue and perhaps it is too far gone, which is why I favour a fresh start with a new unitary authority.

  3. Alan Dean says:

    I was challenged about the fairness of the criticism in this post and I was asked to remove it. I decided to make it private whilst I reviewed its content. I compiled a transcript of the meeting from the Council’s recording and asked my critics to justify their concerns. No response has been received from my critics, so I have made the post public again.

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