Monday 22 October 2012

Richard Cornelius has got to go!

Mr Jelly Bean: Leader of Barnet Council


When Richard Cornelius was elected leader of Barnet Council last year, Don’t Call Me Dave predicted that he would not last in post until the next council election. Many people disagreed with this view pointing out that Mr Cornelius is a very courteous and polite person, willing to consider the views of others; a refreshing change from his two predecessors. Quite so. But as DCMD knew then, and as others are now beginning to realise, Mr Cornelius is a weak and ineffectual leader. He simply does not have the balls to stand up to those councillors who damage the integrity of the Council and the Conservative Party.

Last week, Andreas Tambourgreedy hit the council with a £17,500 legal bill. Instead of kicking it into touch, as advised by barrister councillor Sachin Rajput, Cornelius capitulated and paid up.

This week, Conservative councillor Brian Coleman has been charged with a serious criminal offence, and still Mr Cornelius refuses to take any action. He has refused to withdraw the party whip, telling the Barnet Press: “he will not be chucked out unless he is proven guilty”. In a statement to the Barnet Times Mr Cornelius added: “I have no wish to prejudice any trial and he remains innocent until proven guilty.”

Compare this to the fate of Cllr John Hart who, last year, was immediately suspended from his committee chairmanship following an allegation of racism. Cllr Hart was subsequently cleared by the Standards Committee. There has never been any suggestion that his suspension prejudiced his ability to a fair hearing.

Richard Cornelius could, and should, have suspended Brian Coleman from his committee membership and chairmanship when he was first arrested. Given the serious nature of the matter - alleged assault-  it would have been an entirely reasonable position to adopt.

Mr Cornelius could, and should, have suspended Brian Coleman for his refusal to comply with an order from the Standards Board in relation to a previous disciplinary matter. But, as usual, Richard Cornelius bottled it.

Brian Coleman knows that his political career is in its death throes and, like a spoilt child, he is determined to take the whole Conservative Group down with him. It will undoubtedly serve them right, but it will be the residents who ultimately suffer as they end up with another ruinous Labour administration.

If the Conservatives wish to retain any credibility as a serious political party, then Mr Cornelius must be removed as leader and replaced by someone who will deal with recalcitrant and errant councillors. Time is running out if they want to hold on to power.

UPDATE 23/10/12:

Innocent until proven guilty?

Ever since Brian Coleman’s arrest last month, the media has been quick to point out that he is innocent until proven guilty.

But this phrase is regularly misused. It really means innocent in law until proven guilty. A person guilty of an offence cannot be punished by a Court until a formal declaration of guilt has been made (or admitted). But a person becomes guilty of an offence the moment it is committed.

This is why Mr Coleman has to be suspended from his council committee membership and chairmanship, and his membership of the North London Waste Authority. You cannot have a councillor holding such positions when he might actually be a criminal. The reputational damage this would do to the council is immense, although how much of the council’s reputation remains is, of course, a moot point.

Reacting after the event is far too late. Ask the BBC about that. The outgoing Chief Executive, Non-Stick Nick, should explain publicly why he did not properly advise Richard Cornelius as to what he could and should have done once Mr Coleman was arrested.

Suspending Mr Coleman from his council positions does not prejudice his defence or his right to a fair hearing in any way whatsoever. If he is acquitted of the charges then the status quo ante can immediately, and quite properly, be restored. 

Friday 19 October 2012

Rotten. Immoral. Greedy.

Three words to describe Councillor Andreas Tambourides, Barnet’s answer to Fred Goodwin. Just when you thought it was not physically possible for Barnet’s ruling councillors to debase themselves any further, Tambourides has stepped up to the plate to prove that the snouts are still well and truly stuck in the trough (that’s enough mixed metaphors - Ed).

When Don’t Call Me Dave resigned as Chairman of Chipping Barnet Conservative Association in 2005, he told the area Executive Committee that he could not support an Administration which had approved £109,000 of indemnities for councillors and officers, whilst at the same time cutting a grant of £18,000 to a charity for the blind, resulting in three job losses. DCMD asked the Association members: “How do you think the public will react to that? I think they will feel the same as me – that this Administration has lost all sense of reality.” 

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

DCMD recalls that Brian Coleman supported the concept of granting indemnities to council officers but was vehemently opposed to councillors receiving taxpayers’ money for such purpose. Yes, the same Brian Coleman who subsequently applied for countless indemnities and treats the council as his personal ATM machine.

DCMD also recalls how Mike Freer, then Cabinet Member for Resources, was furious that councillors under investigation were allowed to avail themselves of expensive lawyers when there were so many cheaper alternatives. Yes, the same Mike Freer who, when leader, personally granted Brian Coleman permission to hire an expensive lawyer (we get the point - Ed).

Barnet Council has an indemnity policy to provide legal representation for councillors who do not know how to behave. It is only right and proper that they should be able to defend themselves of any charges made against them. If a councillor does not wish to use the lawyer provided by taxpayers, they have an absolute right to use a lawyer of their choosing. But it should be at their own expense. This is how things work in the real world. Why should taxpayers pay extra for something that can be provided at no additional cost? Isn’t that what One Barnet is supposed to be about: cutting costs, not increasing them?

Not content with an indemnity for £3,000, Tambourides ran up a massive bill for £16,000 plus VAT. Rather than advise the council during the investigation that his costs were increasing beyond the limit agreed, he decided to wait until the case had concluded and then asked for retrospective reimbursement. Such conduct would never be permitted in a private organisation.

DCMD has previously criticised Cllr Sachin Rajput, who is desperate to stand for election anywhere other than in Barnet. At the meeting of the Cabinet Resources Committee on 18th October, Cllr Rajput redeemed himself by eloquently explaining why the retrospective claim for payment should be rejected. Even the council’s own legal department concluded that the amount being claimed was excessive. The Barnet Bugle has the video of proceedings.

In addition to his outrageous bill, Tambourides also demanded reimbursement for the £1,500 retainer he paid his lawyer. There is nothing in the council’s rule book which permits such a payment, but the Cabinet Resources Committee, at the behest of another wannabe away councillor, Dan Thomas, nonetheless agreed to pay this sum.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware how Tambourides acquired the sobriquet ‘Tambourgreedy’ through his prodigious allowance claims. You cannot blame the serial trougher for trying to claim the money, but you can blame the council for agreeing to pay him. The real villains of this scandal are Cllr ‘John’ Thomas who proposed making the payment and Cllr ‘Spineless’ Cornelius for his abject failure to stand up for the taxpayers of Barnet.

Perhaps Barnet’s ruling Conservatives have a death wish? Or do they already realise that they are going to be thrown out of office in 2014 and are grabbing as much public cash as they can before they go?