Case Papers (4) My defence

This follows on from the 3rd blog on the case papers, here. To try and explain to the Standards Commissioner the context in which I was operating as a councillor I sent them on additional information about the way in which the council operated. This material is at these links but you might like to skip to the paragraphs below these 3  links and to the final two links on this blog today.

case-papers-pages-139-to-154

case-papers-pages-155-to-176

case-papers-pages-178-to-191

None of the above seems to have been of any interest to the Commissioner. I now know that they seem to take the view that context doesn’t matter. All that matters is the manner in which a councillor “interacts” with officers. That sounds as though it makes no difference what the officers says or does or doesn’t do; a councillor can’t do or say anything about it without risking breaching the code.

The Commissioner issued 2 reports, neither of which I am publishing unless someone asks for them. I am not publishing them because my responses to them say it all in my view. I took issue with the content of the first report and then they issued a 2nd one that still took the view I had breached the code of conduct.

I then issued a further rebuttal (pages 283 to 290) but I also gave them a personal statement (pages 297 to 305) that provided them with details of the way I had been treated as a councillor in my first year or so. My view was, and remains, that I was treated with utter disrespect by officers. That is why I felt I had to release some information that I had, till then, been unwilling to release. This is all contained in the following two documents.

case-papers-pages-283-to-290

case-papers-297-to-305

None of the above made any difference, apparently, despite the jaw dropping manner in which officers had operated as set out in pages 297 to 305. 

 

Case files (3) My defence

I now need to provide the balance that the Standards Commisioner would not do and publish my defence against the complaint.

It’s essential that I say up front that there will be plenty of unhappy people when they read this material but all of this could have been avoided had the 4 complainants taken one of the four chances they had to withdraw the complaint.

I also need to say that when you give evidence to the Standards Commissioner or his staff, verbally or in writing, it is effectively under oath. Therefore, any facts in my defence are truthful and any opinions are fair comment based on my knowledge of how Argyll & Bute works, or doesn’t.

Another thing worth saying at the start is that, unlike the criminal justice system, the Standards Commissioner acts as both the police and the procurator fiscal, ie they do the investigating and they also decide if it’s worth prosecuting. This is a fundamental flaw in the system that should never have been allowed. My view is that their investigation was so patently flawed that had this been a criminal matter and  been carried out by the police, the PF would have binned it. But no, they carry out a flawed investigation and then they convince themselves it’s worth pursuing. And this in a modern Scotland?

The system is that when the Standards Commissioner receives a complaint, they assess if it’s worthy of investigation. If they consider that it is, they write to you and ask you to respond to the complaint. My first response is provided at the link below. I have had to be very frank but I have been entirely truthful so any offence given to anyone is just too bad. I have had to be frank to defend myself from this politically motivated complaint.

You may wish to refer to the earlier case papers setting out the complaint but my response is probably enough. The earlier papers are here and here.

The link below covers my initial response and then gives more information I sent them after I had a lengthy interview in Edinburgh in October 15 accompanied by my solicitor.

There will be more tomorrow.

case-papers-pages-125-to-138

 

Case Papers (2)

I have managed to find a way of reducing the file sizes of the appendices to the complaint, first part of which is here. This was posted yesterday, 11th, but updated this morning as I had had a request to include a summary of the complaint, which I have tried to do.

The appendices are provided here, split up to manageable file sizes:

case-paper-pages-46-to-54

case-papers-pages-55-to-68

case-papers-pages-69-to-80

case-papers-pages-81-to-88

case-papers-pages-89-to-96

case-papers-pages-97-to-110

case-papers-pages-111-to-124

Two things strike me about the above appendices. The first is that the complaint must have been some time in the making and the second is the cost in officer time to compile it all.

As soon as I had a copy of the complaint, I read it and submitted an initial response on 1 June 15 to the Standards Commissioner’s office. At that date, the earlier complaint submitted by Walsh, E Morton and Scoullar had not been concluded so I made the point that this new complaint had its roots in the earlier complaint.

I stated that : This complaint will have been produced with the full knowledge and agreement of Cllr Walsh, council leader. He may well have instigated this but, as a minimum, it is inconceivable that this complaint would have been made without his full agreement. 

I told them about the very close relationships between certain elected members and some of the new complainants and I urged him to reject the new complaint. He didn’t.

Tomorrow I will provide details of the defence I submitted.

 

Case Papers (1)

I have been unable until recently to make public the complaint against me and my defence to it. However, since the day of the first hearing in September, I have been free to do so but did not do so because I had assumed that the Standards Commission’s web site would have published all the case papers. I have been asking them why they haven’t done this. All they published was their version of events, a version I have some very big issues with. Publishing all the papers would have been a balanced way of reflecting the case for and the case against, but they have refused.

Their position is as follows:

By arrangement with the Standards Commission, the final report relevant to a public hearing is published on the Commissioner’s website on the first day of the hearing.  No appendices are published.  The statutory power to publish rests with the Standards Commission, with whom the matter would need to be pursued.  Section 15 of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 allows the Commission to publish a report “in whatever way it thinks fit”.

Anyway, over the next week or so I plan to release all the papers. The starting point was the complaint from the four officers, Messrs Loudon, Sneddon, Milne and Hendry. This complaint, including the appendices, came close to 100 pages and was submitted in late May 2015. I wonder how much officer time was involved in compiling this complaint, at a direct cost to every citizen of Argyll & Bute.

For ease of reading, I have split the file into the body of the complaint and appendices. The first publication today is the body of the complaint and this can be downloaded from the link below. The appendices I am unable to publish at the moment due to the huge file size but if I can get these in a manageable form, I will publish them. Having said that, the summary is probably enough.

Since the complaint was made, Mrs Loudon has moved on to become the chief executive of Cosla and Mr Sneddon has replaced her as chief executive of the council.

complaint-summary-may-15

I have been asked to try and summarise what the complaint is about. I’ll do my best:

  1. It’s to do with whether or not I showed officers due respect in my dealings with them. That is the nub of the matter
  2. The complaint centres on 3 issues:
    1. Castle Toward and the community buyout that never was.
    2. The scandal of the illegally low pay of care workers who worked for private companies used by the council to deliver care at home services.
    3. The long running saga in Rothesay Harbour that involved what to me was a vendetta waged against a Mr Calum McMillan and his vessel Seahorse 2. Associated with this were a number of safety issues.
  3. Castle Toward:
    1. I had taken up the concerns of the then tenants of the castle, Actual Reality, who claimed the council had tried to force them out of business in order to gain vacant possession of the property so they could sell it. I gave the then chief executive (now CEO of Cosla) a long list of questions in August 2012, none of which she ever answered. I believe this was the start of my troubles.
    2. When the property did become empty, I supported the community buyout, a proposed buyout that had huge local support in my ward. I felt that obstacles were put in the way of the buyout and took up the community’s case on a number of occasions.
    3. A search of this blog will find multiple articles on Castle Toward.
  4. Care Workers:
    1. In 2013 I became aware of care workers earning around £5 per hour, below the minimum wage. Around 30 to 35 workers approached me from various care companies with much the same issues.
    2. I took up the issue with officers and provided them with anonymised evidence of the scale of the problem. There was much correspondence on this over the 3 years to 2016.
    3. As of today, October 2016, I know of no progress with this. In April, I had a meeting with Mr Sneddon and other staff along with Cllr Horn and gave them a presentation on the issue. I left them with a pack of evidence, some of it evidence they had had before. There has been complete silence since that meeting.
    4. A search of this blog will find multiple articles on the care workers.
  5. Rothesay Harbour:
    1. As a member of the harbour board for Rothesay Harbour, I discovered that, as the “duty holder” I and my fellow councillors were “individually and collectively” responsible for marine safety. This places councillors in a much more direct role than normal.
    2. I became aware of this as an indirect result of asking a lot of questions of officers over the apparent vendetta waged against Mr McMillan, a vendetta that kept him out of his home port for several years.
    3. I raised many safety issues and in one email, written collectively by myself and 2 other councillors, we laid out clearly what these issues were. Despite the collective nature of the email, I was the only one complained about.
    4. Few of the safety issues have been addressed.
    5. I have written very little about this because, until recently, it involved a court action against the council. This has now been settled out of court.
  6. In summary, this is all about doing what I believe a councillor should do, ie look into matters, take up issues by constituents, raise them with officers etc. I was at all times polite and never used any inflammatory language. However, I did my own research if necessary, I was diligent in exploring the issues and I was persistent. These are all faults, apparently.
  7. It is my view that I was complained about wholly unjustifiably. That wasn’t the view of the Standards Commissioner and that is why there was a hearing last month with their decision coming at 1100 on Wednesday 19th in Edinburgh, details here.

Reply from Walsh!

Cllr Walsh replied late this afternoon but only to me. My reply to that, copying in all other councillors, along with his reply is shown below. Make of it what you will. What I can say is that the allegation that we stage managed this issue is completely untrue. We knew that Robert wanted to make a statement, that was it. We didn’t know, nor do we know, what he was going to say.

I find it hard to think why I need apologise when all I did was ask what was said and why the chair changed his mind immediately after Cllrs Walsh and Scoular spoke to Cllr McNaughton.

From: Walsh, Dick Sent: 10 October 2016 14:31 To: Breslin, Michael Subject: RE: Today’s area committee meeting [OFFICIAL]

Classification: OFFICIAL

Michael

I refer to your communication below to all councillors outlining your version of events at the Bute and Cowal Area Committee meeting on Tuesday 4th October. I am replying not only out of courtesy but to provide an accurate account of these events given that your claims have been published online and circulated to a wide audience. I would prefer that they are not misled and are in possession of the facts and I trust that you will publish this response on your blog.

As you acknowledge and so the position is quite clear I have and had no role in the advice supplied by the officer to the meeting nor indeed with the determination of the issue, following that supplied advice, by the Chair.  I feel it is wrong and indeed disrespectful to professional officers, colleagues and of course the Provost and Area Chair when malpractice or wrongdoing is inferred to multiple readers. An apology should be given serious and urgent consideration by you.

Let me clarify the truth. The conversation held with the Provost prior to the start of the meeting referred to item 5 on the agenda concerning the Isle of Bute Jazz Festival. As this was on the agenda as the result of a member request and there was no officer report regarding this item, the Provost advised that he had copied recent emails and the press statement from the organisers of the festival to assist with the discussion and if needed. As it turned out that discussion was short and it was not necessary to do this. For the benefit of all readers it is also worth clarifying that it is by no means unusual nor is it inappropriate for members to have conversations or to share advice on agenda items prior to the start of a meeting.

It has been suggested to me that what transpired at the meeting and since then could have been stage-managed and set up for the purposes of securing headlines, and at the same time bringing the area committee process into disrepute and displaying considerable disrespect for colleagues, the Provost, the Chair and officers. I sincerely hope that this is not the case.

I have had a conversation with the Provost and the Area Chair on the above detail and would confirm that this is our collective response to your production.

Councillor Dick Walsh

So Alex’s complete change of mind over Robert’s statement must have happened by complete chance Dick. That simply isn’t credible.

 Michael Breslin

No reply from Walsh

I wrote on Tuesday about the antics at the area committee that morning, here. This was the follow on from the disgraceful behaviour of the administration on Thursday last, read here.

On Tuesday when I got home, I wrote to Cllrs Walsh and Scoullar as shown below. They haven’t replied and I think they’ll try their usual trick when asked awkward questions, ie kidding on the questions were never asked. I have asked them both again this morning but don’t hold your breath. The question is this: what exactly did they say to reverse the chairman’s decision? Of course, if the chairman had any backbone he would have told them both to get lost.

I am copying all councillors into this query to Cllrs Walsh and Scoullar about the goings on at the start of today’s Bute & Cowal Area Committee for reasons that will be clear.

Cllr Robert MacIntyre, the ousted chair of the area committee, went up to his replacement Cllr Alex McNaughton before the meeting started and asked if he could make a statement at the start of the meeting. The officer from governance and law was beside Cllr McNaughton and must have heard the request. He would also have heard the answer from Cllr McNaughton which was, quite sensibly, that Cllr MacIntyre could indeed make a statement.

Some five minutes later Cllrs Walsh and Scoullar had a conversation with Cllr McNaughton and the officer, in hushed tones but not hushed enough that others around them heard the word “statement”, so it is improbable that they were discussing anything other than the approved request that Cllr MacIntyre could make his statement.

Then, after the huddle dispersed, Cllr MacIntyre was told that he could not make his statement after all.

So, the questions for Cllrs Walsh and Scoullar are as follows:

  1. What did you say in your conversation that made both the chair and the officer change their minds?
  2. What were your motives in asking/telling/persuading them to change their minds?
  3. Cllr Scoullar has some role here as vice chair of the area committee but you Cllr Walsh have no role whatsoever so why were you involved please?

I look forward to hearing from you both.

Regards

 

My hearing, day 2

I had asked that my 2nd day of hearing on 19 October be held in Dunoon, Inverclyde, Glasgow or Edinburgh, in that order.

This was on the basis that if the intention of a public hearing was to ensure the maximum public attendance, this seemed logical. I had made much the same arguments about the 1st hearing but it was held in Kilmory, Lochgilphead, as far away from public interest as you could imagine. It also, by the way, was probably the most costly venue from the public purse argument.

I have today been told that the 2nd day on 19 October will be in Edinburgh. I note below the email that I got to confirm this. I have agreed to Edinburgh as the venue.

Dear Councillor Breslin

I am writing further to my email of 27 September 2016.  Please accept my apologies for the delay in reverting to you.

The Hearing Panel have now considered your request concerning the venue for the second day of the Hearing, being 19 October 2016.

As previously explained, the Standards Commission’s Rules provide that the Hearing will usually be held at a venue in the area where the Headquarters of the Local Authority is located unless, taking into account all of the circumstances, the Standards Commission determine it is appropriate not to hold it in that area.  The Panel was of the view that, in this case, any potential public interest in the Hearing (which could include the complainants) would be across the local authority area and would not simply be localised to Dunoon.  However, the Panel noted that all submissions on whether there has been a contravention of the Code have already been heard in public.  The Panel will  only be meeting to determine (in private) and then announce its decision (in public) as to whether a breach has been found.  If not, the Hearing will conclude at that stage.  If the Panel conclude there has been a breach, it will then hear and consider any submissions you wish to make in respect of mitigation before determining the sanction to be applied.  Given, therefore, that the second day will comprise largely of the Panel making its determination(s) in private, the Panel has considered factors other than the public interest, such as cost to the public purse and convenience, in deciding where the second day of the Hearing should be held.  In the circumstances, the Panel have concluded the second (and final) day of the Hearing will be held in Edinburgh.

I appreciate you may be disappointed with this decision but hope you understand the reasoning behind it.

The second day of the Hearing will commence at 11:00 at will be held at:

Lothian Chambers

George IV Bridge

Edinburgh

EH1 1RN

It would be helpful if you could provide the names of anyone who you know will be attending, purely so we can advise the Reception at Edinburgh Council so they know who to expect.  Edinburgh Council are aware, however, that, it is a public Hearing and there may be other attendees.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any queries.

Yours sincerely