CONFLICT OF INTEREST AWARD
Runner-up: Labour Croydon council’s chair of planning, Paul Scott, who felt it unnecessary to declare that the firm of architects of which he is a director, TP Bennett, has worked for shopping mall developer Westfield – which last year was granted permission for the £1.4bn redevelopment of Croydon town centre by Scott’s committee.
Winner: Bournemouth’s Tory council leader John Beesley, who was employed as a consultant by a developer who won planning permission for a 131-bed hotel, but failed to declare his glaring conflict of interest. When the council’s chief executive Tony Williams began to investigate he was sent on his way with a £394,000 payoff.
update 05 Oct. 2018, approx. 10 months after this article:
"John Beesley has no case to answer, says CPS, but council probe still to come"
FILTHY LIARS OF THE YEAR
Cheshire East council was caught out having falsified air quality figures in a "deliberate and systematic" manner over at least three years. By pretending air quality in certain areas was far better than it actually was, the council was able to grant planning permission to housing developments which should have been vetoed on the grounds that the extra traffic generated would cause unacceptable levels of pollution.
FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AWARD
Having been forced by the government to close its weekly propaganda-on-the-rates organ Greenwich Time, Labour Greenwich council gave its advertising contract to a newcomer, Greenwich Weekender. But councillors were horrified to discover that the new paper sometimes included stories in which residents were – shock – critical of the council! Faced with the threat of losing its contract, Weekender agreed to stop covering council news apart from paid-for puff pieces.
BLUE-SKY THINKERS OF THE YEAR
Cornwall council paid a consultancy firm called "thinkingplace" £75,000 to come up with ideas on how to revitalise the county’s economy. It produced a report suggesting visitors be encouraged by advertising beaches, Poldark connections and, er, pasties. Undiscovered gems!
JUST SAY NO AWARD
Teenagers leaving Norfolk county councilcare and living in supposedly supervised accommodation in Norwich were told to desist from smoking weed in the lounge, but it was OK in their bedrooms.
YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR
Beaumaris town council on the Isle of Anglesey rented a garage from one Dai Ifor Evans-Jones, 12, for £87 a month. Dai happened to be the son of the mayor, Gwen Evans-Jones. Cllr Evans-Jones said Dai saved up the £13,000 price of the garage, which will be used "for storage of council equipment" from pocket money. As a reader who saw the story on WalesOnline commented: "I mean, what 12 yr old hasn’t got £13,000 saved that he invests in real estate, via a trust managed by his parents, and rents it to the council his mother is the mayor of at a return of 7.70% when base rates are 0.25%? Nothing to see here."
Wellington town council in Shropshire gave £600 to a local artist to "paint a Muriel" in an alleyway behind the bus station.
JOBS FOR THE GALS AWARD
In March Salford councillor Sareda Dirir was appointed deputy police and crime commissioner for Cheshire. She hadn’t declared in her application that her new boss, PCC David Keane, had been a family friend for 20 years, or that Keane just happened to be a Labour councillor in the same Warrington ward as both her parents. A committee of councillors tasked with scrutinising the appointment took a dim view of all this, and concluded that she was barely up to the job. Cllr Keane, naturally, confirmed her appointment in the £50,000-a-year role.
HIGH SOCIETY AWARD
Following ugly scenes at Darlington council’s charity ball in April, the new mayor, Labour Cllr Jan Taylor, denied "giving a slap" to Independent Cllr Kevin Nicholson. But she admitted swearing. Classy.
MILLSTONE GRIT AWARD
To Sheffield city council for continuing to defend its unpopular £2.2bn highways contract with Amey, which entails the felling of thousands of trees in one of Britain’s leafiest cities. (Ghastly things, trees. People might trip over their roots! Branches could fall on people’s heads!) The Labour council is desperate to find a way out, fearing the fiasco will damage it at the polls in May, but ending the contract would cost a fortune.
PAYOFF OF THE YEAR
was the £440,000 awarded to Slough borough council’s new chief exec Roger Parkin just 24 hours after his appointment had been announced to the media. Many councillors had opposed Parkin’s appointment, accusing him of incompetence and bullying, but he was principal yes-man for council leader Sohail Munawar (Eyes passim). When the Labour group finally ditched Munawar, Parkin’s hours were numbered.
NO HOLDS BARRED AWARD
Concerns for the welfare of missing Sutton Lib-Dem councillor Callum Morton were only partly assuaged when it turned out that he had been training as a cage fighter (for charity).
SPIV OF THE YEAR
Tory Isle of Wight council leader Dave Stewart handed the authority’s "business development" portfolio to Cllr Wayne Whittle – who has convictions for selling counterfeit goods, exploding cigarette lighters and wonky skateboards.
Trendy Islington council installed six "smart benches" equipped with solar panels so users could recharge their mobile phones at a "customer interface". Alas it had forgotten to apply for planning permission; and when it did so, the council’s own planning committee refused permission for five of the six. They had to be removed at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds to the taxpayer.
AWAY WITH THE FAIRIES AWARD
In an attempt to boost tourism Tory Daventry district council in Northamptonshire awarded itself planning permission to dig a link between the Grand Union Canal, two miles away, and the town centre. There would be narrowboats, waterside inns, shops and housing. Trouble is, the council can’t remotely afford the £24m required, so has compromised by planning to dig just a bit of canal, heading out for less than a mile from the town and stopping way short of the Grand Union. Any boats wishing to moor there will have to voyage via lorry and crane.
BRASS-NECKED COUNCILLOR OF THE YEAR
Winchester city council Tory James Byrnes clung on to his seat despite admitting having stolen £180 from his employer. He avoided a criminal record by admitting the "minor" offence, resolved under a "community resolution order". He lost a £6,000 "special responsibility" allowance but still trousers his £5,580 basic. He now sits as an "Independent".
CLEAN STREETS AWARD
In September Birmingham council leader John Clancy resigned after a botched attempt to end a binmen’s strike which saw the city slowly disappear under thousands of festering bin bags.
CHOPIN AND CHANGIN’ AWARD
Kensington & Chelsea council spent £200,000 supporting a wealthy family’s legal complaints against their neighbours’ classical piano-playing son’s practice sessions, which they characterised as "torture". The council dropped its support in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, when it was pointed out that £200,000 was the same amount that would have been required to install a sprinkler system in the doomed tower.
CLICHÉD TORY VILLAIN OF THE YEAR
If Sebastian Arbuthnot-Leslie didn’t exist, we might have had to invent him. The wealthy Tory councillor, who lives in a castle in Aberdeenshire and had sneered at opponents of benefit cuts, was caught owing £2,500 in council tax, to general merriment.
QUOTES OF THE YEAR
"It is remarkable to see first-hand how the cladding has lifted the external appearance of the tower" – former Kensington & Chelsea council leader Nick Paget-Brown praises the cosmetic refurbishment of Grenfell, months before the fatal fire.
"More cock-up than conspiracy" – unfortunate phrase used by lawyer Mark Greenburgh in his £440,000 summing-up of why no one at Rotherham council was in any way culpable for the sexual abuse of 1,400 young women across 16 years.
"Factually devoid, feral parasitical vultures" – Tory Alan Preest, of Forest of Dean council, sums up journalists who exposed his failure to pay council tax.
"I have not been deselected, I just haven’t been selected" – former Wirralcouncillor Jim Crabtree on his defenestration from the Labour party, prior to receiving a suspended jail sentence for making a death threat to a party colleague.