Councillors cleared of ‘double-dipping’ slur

A WHITBY councillor has pledged to speak out after being cleared of ‘double-dipping’ allegations.

Coun Joe Plant, who represents Whitby’s West Cliff ward on Scarborough Borough Council (SBC), was one of ten councillors cleared by the authority last week for allegedly breaching the Code of Conduct for Members over IT and broadband allowances.

Whitby resident, Nigel Ward, had alleged that councillors, Andrew Backhouse, John Blackburn, Bill Chatt, Mike Cockerill, David Jeffels, Janet Jefferson, Penny Marsden, Joe Plant, Peter Popple and Brian Simpson sitting on both SBC and North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) had in effect received two payments from both authorities that covered a single expense therefore breaching the Code of Conduct.

Following a joint investigation by legal officers from both authorities, an SBC Standards Committee, made up of elected and independent members, concluded there was “no dishonesty or illegality” and a breach of the code had not taken place as the £8,994 basic allowance from the county council quite properly does not define specific elements of expenditure, such as broadband or IT, but covers a multitude of expenses, some of which are incidental and often unquantifiable, which relate to “the cost of being a member and engaging with the public”.

The open hearing at Scarborough Town Hall also heard none of the councillors submitted a claim for these allowances, as members are automatically entitled to receive them.

Coun Plant, told the Gazette: “As I stated previously, I denied the allegation and now feel vindicated by SBC of any wrong-doing, as suggested by Mr Ward.

“As this has to go through NYCC standards committee I cannot comment further. When that decision is known I will give a frank and honest statement about the whole issue”.

NYCC’s Standards Committee is set to meet at a later date to consider the same reports and the conclusion to the SBC investigation.

SBC’s head of legal and support services, Lisa Dixon, said: “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.”

A council spokesperson added the basic allowance is intended to recognise the time commitment of all councillors as well as incidental costs such as the use of their homes.

Since the introduction of iPads across the council, SBC’s ICT and broadband allowance scheme had changed and is now based on actually incurred expenses, rather than an automatic allowance.