A councillor is being investigated by his own party for failing to pay his council tax.
Andrew Sherris, Conservative councillor for Yarm and Kirklevington on Stockton Borough Council, was suspended by his party on Monday pending an investigation into “financial irregularities”.
It is understood Cllr Sherris was in arrears with his council tax on a second property he owns.
Last night he said the matter was “confidential” and it is in the hands of the council’s solicitor.
The bill is now believed to have been sorted out, but the Conservative Party is pressing ahead with its investigation.
Stockton Borough Council refused to confirm whether Cllr Sherris had any tax bill issues last night, saying it was confidential, citing the Data Protection Act.
It has previously said he is not under investigation by the council itself.
Ben Houchen, leader of the Conservative Group on Stockton Borough Council, launched the investigation on Monday and suspended Cllr Sherris, saying his behaviour had fallen below the standard expected of an elected Conservative councillor.
Councillors in arrears with council tax by more than two months are not allowed to vote on the precept. When councillors voted on the rise in council tax last week Cllr Sherris was absent – but said that he was on holiday at the time.
He said yesterday he believed the investigation was an ‘unjustified attack‘ and was a move to discredit him ahead of the elections. His support of fellow former Conservative councillor Mark Chatburn, who defected to Ukip, had “not been well received” by his party, he said.
He added: “I will be standing as an independent councillor in the coming elections in May, putting local people first, as always, ahead of party politics.”
Cllr Houchen, who is also chairman of Stockton Conservative Association, said if the allegations were true he “would not be acting in the best interests of residents not to take action”.
An impassioned debate over claims that strict sanctions on benefits claimants are causing severe poverty ended with Stockton Borough Council passing a motion criticising Government policy.
The motion called for a review of the Department for Work and Pensions‘ (DWP) sanctions where benefits claimants, including those on Job Seekers Allowance, who miss an appointment or is late can be left without any money at all for five to six weeks.
Several councillors speaking at the authority’s full council meeting said they had examples of where the policy was being used “unfairly” while deputy leader Jim Beall branded it as a “deliberate, cynical measure” to alter the unemployment statistics.
However Conservative councillor Andrew Stephenson argued against the motion saying the sanctions helped people back to work.
The motion concluded:
“The Council resolves to write to our MPs requesting that they raise this deplorable situation with the responsible Minister urging an immediate review of national policy and guidance on sanctioning.”
Council leader Bob Cook told of a case where a young man got a letter informing him of a morning appointment but didn’t receive it until the afternoon and lost his benefit.
Meanwhile Cllr Norma Stephenson said she knew of 19 families on the Hardwick estate who had been sanctioned while Cllr Barry Woodhouse cited the case of a Billingham resident who lost her disability benefit for having zero points, only for a review to say she had 33 points.
Cllr Eileen Johnson said she had a friend working for the DWP who told her staff had been in tears “because they can’t bear what they are doing.”
> But they carry on doing it nevertheless…
Cllr Norma Wilburn said she had heard a national story on the radio about an amputee who had lost his benefit because he couldn’t answer the phone. She said: “This seems like a coordinated attack on the vulnerable. This is evil.”
Cllr Mark Chatburn, Ukip, said the policy was “deliberate” and “the epitome of nasty.“
> This from the representive of a party who’s members have called for the unemployed to be denied the vote and banned from owning cars.
The motion was passed and Stockton’s two MPs, Alex Cunningham, Labour, and James Wharton, Conservative, will be contacted by the council.
Source – Northern Echo, 22 Jan 2015
Campaigners are calling for four councils to “get around a table” and discuss moving Yarm into Yorkshire.
It comes after voters in the market town gave an emphatic “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council.
More than 89% of voters who took part in a poll on Tuesday over the future of Yarm’s local administration said they would prefer the town to be under Hambleton’s control.
Only around 11% favoured staying under Stockton Council.
The Yarm 4 Yorkshire campaign claim Stockton Council has ignored people over issues such as parking and housing.
Stockton Council said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the results of the poll until Yarm Town Council had an opportunity “to fully consider the results” or the Boundary Commission asked it “to look into the matter further”.
But one of the organisers of the poll, Chris Johnson, said it was time for the four councils who would be involved in any transfer – Stockton, Yarm, North Yorkshire and Hambleton – to get together “and work out what, if any process, would be done”.
One of the campaigners admitted today they did not even know if Yarm would be better off in Hambleton.
But Mr Johnson explained: “The way forward now would be for the four councils to sit down around the table. Those details would then come out. This is just the first step on the way.”
He said they had also contacted the Local Government Boundary Commission for England in the hope that the “resounding result” would indicate to them “a failing of democracy”.
The result is not legally binding as Government consent would be needed for the town to be transferred to North Yorkshire
Critics say the proposal is unlikely to be introduced.
The turnout for the poll, which was funded by Yarm Town Council and organised by officials from Stockton Council was 25%.
The chair of Yarm Town Council, Peter Monck, branded the poll “a waste of time”, saying: “You can’t claim a victory when 75% didn’t vote. At £4,000 it’s not a good use of council money at all.
“If Stockton Council say they aren’t going to do anything, that’s it – it won’t go any further.
“Even if Stockton Council were to agree to it, it’s a long drawn out process, Hambleton would have to agree and then it would go to the Boundary Commission.”
Labour Leader of Stockton Council, Councillor Bob Cook, said: “For our part, we would reiterate that Stockton Borough Council delivers a huge range of very high quality services from which all of our residents can benefit, no matter where they live.
“Residents’ surveys consistently reveal these services enjoy very high satisfaction levels which show the majority of residents value and appreciate the council’s contribution.
“Of course, like all councils there are times when we have to make difficult decisions and we absolutely understand that people have strong views on issues such as parking and on planning applications for new houses.
“These issues would have to be addressed by whichever local authority had responsibility for Yarm.”
Yarm borough councillor Andrew Sherris, Conservative, said: “We need an open and honest debate with all the information presented on a level playing field without any of the political interference experienced recently with hundreds of letters being sent out to residents.
“The level and quality of service delivery is paramount, particularly for the elderly and more vulnerable members of our Community.”
UKIP councillor Mark Chatburn added: “Critics of this will point to the fact that four out of five residents in Yarm either voted ‘no’ or didn’t even bother to vote. Put in those terms it sounds less convincing than the polling results would suggest.”
James Wharton, MP for Stockton South, said of the result: “People are clearly fed up with Stockton Council riding roughshod over Yarm. This result should act as a wake up call and our Labour run council needs to listen or they will lose ever more support.”
Louise Baldock Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Stockton South, said the result “came as no surprise”, but added: “I am concerned that people as yet know nothing about what a move into a different council authority would mean for the delivery of vital services.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 28 May 2014
A UKIP councillor has been found guilty of misconduct after leaking confidential legal documents intended for councillors’ eyes only.
Mark Chatburn, the only UKIP councillor on Stockton Borough Council, was investigated for publishing the legal paper on his blog.
But the councillor, who represents Yarm, said he was only acting in the best interests of residents and published the confidential legal advice to show how, he claimed, councillors on the planning committee were being influenced in their votes.
He was investigated by Stockton Borough Council for breaching the councillors’ code of conduct and was found guilty in a hearing last week.
Coun Chatburn, who did not attend the hearing, said: “I cannot pretend it came as a surprise the council’s kangaroo court, made up entirely of political opponents, reached the decision they did.
“From how they deal with planning applications, to secretly buying properties to convert into childrens’ homes and presenting residents with a done deal, Stockton council is seemingly incapable of acting in an open and transparent manner.
“I was elected to act in the best interests of residents. That is what I have always done and that is what I will continue to do.”
Coun Chatburn published the legal paper, relating to a controversial planning application at Urlay Nook, near Eaglescliffe, on his blog, linked from his Twitter account.
The legal document said the council would be unlikely to win an appeal against developer Taylor Wimpey if it rejected a plan to build 145 homes and Coun Chatburn said this was trying to influence the voting of the planning committee to vote in favour of the scheme.
The written decision from Stockton Borough Council’s Standards Panel said his actions “represented unacceptable behaviour for a councillor” and also criticised his lack of remorse.
He has been instructed by the panel to give reassurance, in writing, that he would not leak any more confidential information and will be given “advice and guidance” about the code of conduct.
The decision document said: “The Councillor had shown no remorse, but rather to the contrary had indicated that he would do it again without hesitation, and that he had demonstrated scant regard for the pre-hearing and hearing process.”
Coun Chatburn is no longer on Stockton council’s planning committee after defecting from the Conservative Party to UKIP last year.
Source – Northern Echo 07 May 2014
> UKIP’s much vaunted assault on the North east gets off to a poor start… don’t snigger.
The UK Independence Party was heavily defeated in last night’s Yarm Town Council elections – despite the arrival of party leader Nigel Farage for a meet-and-greet the day before the poll.
The UKIP leader had promised during Wednesday’s visit that the North-east would return a Ukip MEP in next month’s Euro elections.
And he added that more councillors would be joining Teesside’s only Ukip councillor – Stockton Council’s Mark Chatburn.
Mr Chatburn defected from the Conservative party in September and later quit Yarm Town Council.
He was among ran nine candidates to run for the three seats up for grabs in yesterday’s Yarm Town Council election.
Mr Chatburn finished eighth with 368 votes.
Seven ballot papers were rejected. A total of 2,041 were issued – a turnout of 30.24%.
Results in full
Lorraine Meakin (Yarm Residents Association) – 1,110 Elected
Martin William Kenefec (Yarm Residents Association) – 1,036 Elected
William James Wilkinson (Yarm Residents Association) – 976 Elected
Carole Jones (Yarm Independent Association) – 636
Fred Holmes (Yarm Independent Association) – 623
Paddy Morton (Yarm Independent Association) – 441
Tom Reay (UKIP) – 385
Mark Chatburn (UKIP) – 368
Mandy Boylett (UKIP) – 322
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette 25 April 2014