GUEST POST FROM Llywellyn Pollick
Broxtowe Borough Council slapped down by Ombudsman
Cllr Crow, deputy leader of council, in ‘maladministration and injustice’ scandal
Councillors bullied, harassed and lied to street trader
Cllr Crow refuses to apologise, blames everyone else
Stephanie Hather is the sort of person you’d think would be extolled in the highest terms by Conservatives, especially those of a Thatcherite bent. A small-business-creating entrepreneur and single mother, she is the very model of a self-starting individual trying to make her way in life independently.
It was therefore a shock when she found that bringing a business to Kimberley didn’t result in open-arms from the local Conservatives councilors, but a systematic attack of such pettiness, nastiness and – it seems –downright corruption that the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has just ruled Broxtowe Borough Council is guilty of ‘maladministration and injustice’, dishonesty, and other criticisms. Which is exactly what we’ve been writing about for some time. Let’s go back to October 2016.
That’s when Steph first decided to take her business –a jacket potato stall- up to Kimberley. She’d successfully ran the stall in Stapleford –also in Broxtowe – without any concerns. She expected the same response in Kimberley- where she’d lived all her life -and assumed when Broxtowe Borough Council referred the application for a trial period it would be a mere formality. Broxtowe’s three councilors – Richard Robinson (Labour), Mel Crow (Conservative) and Shane Easom (Conservative) were duly asked – Robinson immediately responded saying he was happy for Steph to have a trial, Easom didn’t seemingly respond, but Crow wasn’t happy, claiming that the stall would impact on existing businesses.
Indeed, Steph’s stall in Stapleford had been lauded by local councilor Richard Macrae (Independent) who noted the increase in footfall the van created and the subsequent benefits this conferred onto other business ‘Plus, no one was doing what I was doing” Steph explains “I run a convenience outlet, not a place to come and have a sit down. How it would be competing against other businesses is beyond me” No evidence other than anecdotal was given for this –nevertheless, the trial was cancelled a day later.
Just like that, a business was stopped from trading. That wonderfully useful and ultimately meaningless explanation of ‘unforeseen circumstances’ was given, and when Steph pressed for more detail, none was forthcoming. Councillor Crow had effectively kicked her out, and wasn’t willing to explain why.
Steph, obviously bewildered and out of pocket after this, turned to Councillor Robinson for support. He was shocked at the way Steph had been treated, and took her case up. He won her the right for another trial, one day a week, for 12 weeks. Problem sorted, yes?
No. Here’s where it gets weird, and where the smell of corruption moves from a slight whiff to a full-on stink.
Steph turns up to her pitch to find that the council bollards blocking her pitch were padlocked, meaning she couldn’t move them to access her pitch as was originally arranged. She rings Broxtowe, who explain it’s not their padlocks. Nevertheless, they get to Kimberley and use bolt-cutters to chop through the chain, and put on new , council padlocks and give Steph a key. “they had no idea who had put the locks on” Steph explains “It was obviously to stop me trading”.
Kimberley Town Council, who were almost definitely behind the bollard-chains, then upped the pettiness. “You’re parking on some ornamental mosaic tiles’ they claimed, despite the very clear fact that Steph wasn’t. “You need a dropped kerb” they moaned –despite the fact there was already one in place. The determined pettiness was off the scale.
Then, in July 2017, a three-tiered planter was placed on her pitch. When she queried why these had been moved there, she was told that that was there proper home – they’d only been temporarily moved to make room for Christmas decorations. Now, local authorities sometime get a bad rap regarding inefficiency, but taking 7 months to move a planter is something else.
Things got personal. Kimberly Town Councillor John Sissons visited her van and, in public, told her ‘You and (Councillor) Robinson have got your faces in the paper –now piss off”. He then took to Facebook to launch a tirade against Steph (below). This is a public figure, and one that in 2015 told the Eastwood Advertiser he was ‘shocked at the level of bullying and harassment’ at Kimberley Town Council. Here’s some choice Facebook moments from the delightful Sissons (click each image to read):
“I was born and bred in Kimberley” Steph explains “They are meant to represent me and support small businesses, not abuse me”
Steph doggedly pursued her complaint through the council, despite numerous attempts to stonewall her “They were obviously hoping I’d lose interest and go away. But I have seen corruption in action in other work I’ve done, and I’ve always been disgusted by it. I wasn’t going to go away”.
The complaint overran massively with Broxtowe trying to push it onto Kimberley Town Council, who in turn passed the buck back to Broxtowe. The whole process was an utter shambles. £200 was offered to Steph in an attempt to make her drop the complaint.
“It’s not about the money” she explains “There is something much more important at stake here”. She continued to pursue her complaint.
The Ombudsman was duly contacted, and took up the case. They were not happy at what they found. The subsequent report was issued to the council in August, but not put in the public domain until November, when it was sneaked out in committee notes. It is, especially for an organization that usually couches criticism in measured language, scathing. (See page 33 onwards here).
“We’ve done nothing wrong” claimed Councillor Shane Eason in October 2017, before using the Donald Trump method of obfuscation “It has become a political witch-hunt”. Not so, claim the LGO. Yet not an iota of responsibility or regret expressed by the Kimberley Councillors.
Broxtowe have now agreed to pay a paltry £600 to settle the matter, and an apology given. Not from Cllr Crow, however, but from an officer. Indeed, the cowardly Councillor still refuses to accept responsibility for her actions, blaming officers for the mess ““I think the whole thing is a great shame. Due diligence was not done, and it should have been done by the council officers.” she told the Nottingham Post. This is spineless, dishonest and testament to Councillor Crow’s lack of self-awareness.
Kimberley Town Council also continue to deny they did anything wrong. They are in a pretty poor state anyway, with mass resignations, intercine squabbling and a febrile atmosphere at meetings. Such is the awfulness of the situation they allowed notorious local bigot and Beestonia regular Darren ‘BNP’ Warner on board recently.
So, what conclusions can we draw from this mess? Why did Councillor Crow take against Steph and her potato fan with such vociferous energy? Could it be to do with wanting to protect a friend’s business, a local outlet that is frequently featured in Anna Soubry’s newsletter? Is this the way Kimberley works now, that unless you’re mates with the ruling party you are about as welcome as a fart in a crowded lift?
Perhaps before she does the honorable thing and resign, Councillor Crow can explain?
I also hope that our MP and self-professed champion of local democracy Anna Soubry will call for an investigation into Kimberley Town Council, as she did in 2015? Then, the council had Labour Borough Councillors doubling up as town councillors, though she stressed that it was not a political act to call for scrutiny (though that investigation turned up nothing of note, and commended the council of being well-ran!). For consistency’s sake, she will call for an investigation into KTC in her next newsletter, otherwise a lot of people in Kimberley might conclude she is a partisan hypocrite.
Every tier of Tory-ran Government, from the national picture to the town council, seems in disarray. let’s start zooming in:
NATION (UK): I’m writing this on a Friday afternoon so the government might have fell since I last checked, so there is no point in trying to give an overview on the appalling state of affairs. Our own MP is at war with her own government, it seems.
COUNTY (Notts): The Kay Cutts led, Tory-ran County Council decided, after spending eye-watering amounts on consultants, that it wouldn’t pursue its plans to scrap Broxtowe, Gedling et al and merge them into a single county. An absolute waste of time and money.
BOROUGH (Broxtowe): The Town Hall debacle, which my predecessor on this blog covered extensively, will actually COST £100,000+ to sell, rather than making bringing in any extra revenue. A public asset is being not just given away, but costing a huge amount of money -your money- to give away.
TOWN(Kimberley): See the mess above.
Every single one of these screw-ups was easily avoidable. All of these screw-ups were down to arrogance, inter-party politics and an absolute disregard for the people they serve. Remember that when they come knocking for your vote early next year.