The H.R.A Group Leaders would like to update residents on what actions have been taken in relation to the audio recording shared with us by Councillor Bob Perry.
From the beginning the H.R.A have adhered to the Councillor Code of Contact process and it became clear very early on, that it was not fit for purpose in this instance. There was no option but to turn to legal advice, and the H.R.A commissioned Simon Bell, a Barrister specialising in Public and Local Government.
The Chair of the H.R.A and Group Leaders met with the this week to discuss the viability of taking the matter to Judicial Review.
Despite Councillor Damian White’s actions being declared undemocratic and against the Nolan Principles, if a JR were to be pursued it would not be able to focus on his actions. The JR would have to be based on the lack of due process and the unsatisfactory decision making process.
The legal advice confirmed there were grounds to pursue to JR due to the lack of ‘rationality’, and that there was ‘actual bias’ which suggests ‘pre-determination’ as the Conservative Committee Members had ignored the legal advice, placing the Council in a very difficult position.
To take the case to full JR would cost between £15-£25,000 which would require public fundraising. Simon advised that there is a 50%-70% chance of the H.R.A winning the case, however there were some areas to consider.
If the H.R.A were successful, the decision would be that the process previously undertaken would be null and void, and the matter would have to come back to the Council and potentially be decided at Full Council. Clearly that would not be satisfactory as, having the numbers, the Administration could simply vote it down in the same manner. Therefore, what would we actually gain from the action and costs undertaken?
The matter of costs against the H.R.A were also discussed. The H.R.A would be liable for paying any costs the Council incurred if the H.R.A were to lose the case, which could potentially mean a further £25,000 or more. Conversely the Council would have to pay the H.R.A costs if they lost and not the Conservative Group, meaning the money would be coming from the public purse.
No Sanctions Possible
Taking everything into consideration the H.R.A Group Leaders have therefore reached the conclusion that what might be achieved by pursuing a JR, would not result in Councillor Damian White facing any sanctions and would potentially place the burden of costs solely on the public. The only way to achieve sanctions, is at the ballot box in the 2022 Local Elections.
Not over yet
There are however some outstanding complaints against Councillors Matt Sutton and Ray Best, the Chief Executive Andrew Blake-Herbert and the Monitoring Officer Abdus Choudhury, as well as an FOI request for the correspondence between the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive, during the initial Boundary Commission process.
The Local Government Boundary Commission of England consultation was inundated with responses, with around one in three making reference to ‘Gerrymandering’. The decision to go back out to consultation or not will be made mid-December by the Commission, with a possible consultation process taking place in January.
And finally, a letter and supporting documentation has been submitted to the House of Lords and The Committee for Service in Public Office to highlight the inadequacy in the current arrangements for the oversight of standards in councils, which in this instance has resulted in a failure to scrutinise or sanction a serious allegation against those in positions of authority.