29 November 2014

How Private Will Your Emails Be If This Tactic Succeeds?




If you are an elector who has ever had any exchange of emails with your local councillor, you should keep an eye on how the following extraordinary matter turns out.

The solicitors instructed by Susan Stevens and Alistair Stevens have made a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to see private emails between a particular New Mills town councillor and the Editor of High Peak Transparency.

Susan Stevens is the dishonest former town clerk of New Mills who was sacked last year.

Alistair Stevens is the discredited New Mills councillor who is abusing that public position to benefit his spouse in her dispute with the council.

The FoI request was addressed to New Mills Town Council.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 took effect in 2005.  It covers public bodies.

A councillor is not a public body. An elector is not a public body. High Peak Transparency is not a public body.

This tactic by the Stevenses or their solicitor also begs the question, what is it the Stevenses want to know exactly?

In the whole period since the targeted individual became a councillor (a matter of years), there has been perhaps five or six emails exchanged.

If you are a member of the public who may correspond with a local councillor, or write to a local councillor on a matter that is important to you, then beware this novel attempt at invading your privacy.

When the result of this FoI request is known, we will be publishing how it turned out.








23 November 2014

Cost Of Living Crisis? Not For Some On The Inside






Documents have been uncovered shedding light on the gravy train which existed in parts of the New Mills town council organisation before the recent comprehensive clean-up and reforms in the town hall.

For example, New Mills council tax-payers will be interested to learn the amounts that were paid to the town hall caretaker in the years leading up to his retirement in September 2013.

In the last full year of his employment (tax year 2011/12), gross salary of the caretaker of the New Mills town hall was £30,838.

This amount was made up of £26,276 basic, £3,468 overtime, £1,094 holiday pay.

UK national average earnings in the same year, including overtime etc, were £26,500.

In tax year 2010/11, the gross salary of the caretaker of the New Mills town hall was £33,481.

This was made up of £25,472 basic, £5,385 overtime, £2,624 holiday pay.

Compared to the over £33,000 of the caretaker in New Mills, UK national average earnings in that year were £26,100.

The last time earnings could be described as anywhere near reasonable for this particular job of a town hall caretaker was in the tax year 2007/8.  In that year, there was simply a gross of £18,104.

The first big pay inflation was to £26,496 in 2008/9, then another unreal leap to £32,401 in 2009/10.

As well as shock at the revelation of the amounts paid by the town council for that particular job, it is reasonable to ask what damage was done to the public’s pension obligations for this post by this radical inflation of pay in these last years just before retirement.



20 November 2014

Of Safes, Members, and Tangled Webs



New Mills Councillor Alistair Stevens what have you done?

Your vicious campaign of unfair and vindictive false statements, and unjustified malicious attacks on decent councillors and various other innocent people who do not deserve it, has unfortunately now had consequences that you could have foreseen but you surely cannot have intended.

Some previously concealed details of your wife's recent dispute have now been exposed - appropriate choice of word - into the public domain in advance of the forthcoming Employment Tribunal.

For example, the following illuminating exchange took place during Mrs Susan Stevens' disciplinary appeal hearing in late 2013 (with her union representative present).

The context is the photographic material that Mrs Stevens, the dishonest former town clerk of New Mills, kept in the town council's safe.  (Use of the word "package" in the appeal discussion is doubtless innocent and totally not Freudian.)

Person 5: "It looks like a male's erect penis doesn't it?  In its underwear."

SS: "Yeah but I don't think it is."

Person 5: "You know I'm sorry but we've got to hit it direct on, but that's what it appears to be, several photographs of a male with an erect penis. Is that... yeah?"

SS: "Yeah yeah"

Person 5: "Okay and they were left in a..."

SS: "In the safe."

Person 5: "I understand the safe's regularly opened."

SS: "Yeah but I, they were, I mean I've put, well the question that was raised in that was did I have permission, I have permission to place these items in a secure place that wasn't my home nine years ago, they sat in my safe for nine years, I'd forgotten they, well I'd sort of forgotten they..."

(There then follows discussion about when and if the pictures etc might be returned to Mrs Stevens.)

Person 4: "Can I ask who gave you permission to put them in the safe and is there a minute number for that?"

SS: "Well I wouldn't have a minute number for them would I?"

Person 5: "Well if you asked permission it would suggest you were getting permission to do so which would suggest it was something you felt you needed some, otherwise you don't just do it do you, put it in your drawer you don't say anything to anyone, but who did you get permission from?"

SS "I asked Councillor Huddlestone if I could put them there."

Person 5: "What, did he know the content, I mean I'd be surprised bearing in mind how uncomfortable you were to see what was on there that you said to him do you mind me putting images of a male erect penis..."

SS "I haven't put them there, I haven't printed them off they were..."

Person 5: "They were on a disc weren't they"

SS "I don't, I don't know anything that disc I have absolutely no idea."

Person 5: "Do you know whose that picture is?"

SS "Well yes I know who that is, but I didn't have any idea that those pictures, yeah."

(There then follows discussion about the vintage of the pictures)

Person 3: "Let's just take this package as the total package for the moment and we'll ignore the other stuff.  Why were they on Council property?"

SS: "Because I couldn't keep them at home."



So, to summarise, what we have is a married town clerk keeping lewd pictures of a lover's 'equipment' on council property, in the town council's safe that is accessible to other employees of the council.

A town's council represents the good name of its town.

This is only one of many simultaneous serious reasons which, all taken together, meant that the former town clerk of New Mills faced instant dismissal following suspension from work in 2013.

New Mills councillor Alistair Stevens, it's over to you.  Do you still genuinely believe you are helping your personal reputation in the town, or more importantly your wife's case, with your dishonest and malicious attacks on all the various people you blame for your wife's dismissal?




16 November 2014

Who Is Wendy And Why Is She Connected With The Stevens Era Of Corruption Inside The Town Hall At New Mills?



The ex-town clerk’s office computer

There are some very interesting things on the office computer that was used by the dishonest former town clerk of New Mills.

That person is Mrs Susan Stevens, dismissed from the town council's employment in late 2013 for gross misconduct.

Putting to one side the pictures on the computer of one particular man's crotch - please, no-one should have to see that - there is (for example) an email from Jamie Stevens.

Jamie is the son of Mrs Stevens and current New Mills councillor Alistair Stevens.

The email, which was sent on 28 June 2013, takes the form of pushing forward a friend of Jamie Stevens for the New Mills Human Resources consultancy job, and he says “Best person, best consultant I've EVER met.”  (capitals in original)

The rest of the email takes the form of a rant by Jamie Stevens attacking the town council’s appointed HR consultant Nicki Williams. For good measure, it is headlined with the internet slang ‘FML’.

The person being pushed by the Stevens is Wendy Choyce of the Choyce People HR Consultancy.


Should a person in public life be able to pick and choose who investigates their actions?

Move forward to the 13 October 2014 New Mills town council meeting. Councillor Alistair Stevens handed around some documents.  He appeared scared of letting High Peak Transparency see any of them. He refused HPT Editor’s request for them point blank.

That refusal set alarm bells ringing as to the authenticity of the tale that Cllr Stevens was attempting to peddle by way of his documents.

We now learn that, at that meeting, one of the Stevens’ apparent moans is that Choyce People was not selected as the HR consultant to deal with Mrs Stevens’ dispute with the town council while she was the town clerk.

All right, in view of the male crotch pictures found on Mrs Stevens’ town hall computer, ‘moan’ may not be the happiest choice of words.

However, this little story of how the Stevens clan became used to doing business inside the New Mills town hall set off a history trail that is relevant to the name and reputation of the town of New Mills, High Peak, Derbyshire.


The starting point

To establish the starting point for this town hall history trail we need to go all the way back to the summer of 2002.

Ah yes, the summer of 2002. The England football team’s supporters were full of hope for the forthcoming World Cup tournament. New Labour’s inner clique was around Tony Blair’s sofa, fabricating stories about weapons in Iraq. And the New Mills Labour Party’s inner clique had two problems on their hands and no town clerk.

One problem was they wanted to move High Peak’s big new courthouse to the small town of New Mills, against strong and vocal opposition. The other problem was that they wanted to confiscate someone's privately-owned property in the town and claim it was a “village green”.

An honest and independent town clerk in post was clearly not going to be suitable for the local Labour Party’s purposes in New Mills.

When the town clerk vacancy arose, local Labour’s Dishonest Ian Huddlestone privately offered it to his friend Susan Stevens.

Hold on a minute. This proposed appointment is a public office, paid for by the public’s money. The town council is a public body.

New Mills is not some dusty rural village in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border. The law will stop such a corrupt appointment from taking place here in England, and ensure that there is an open advertising and recruitment process. Won’t it?

With Dishonest Ian Huddlestone playing the role of corrupt tribal leader, his choice of town clerk - with the nice fat wage packet that went with it - was passed on the nod by the Labour-controlled council.


You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Just make sure no-one finds out.

Labour's High Peak Parliamentary Candidate Caitlin Bisknell and
 Dishonest Ian Huddlestone (3rd left)
Subsequently, at the request of Labour’s Dishonest Ian Huddlestone, Mrs Susan Stevens made a false statement to the court.

Her false statement was about how there came to be no reference to the “village green” idea in Mrs Stevens' minutes of the town council meeting of 5 August 2002.

It has to be borne in mind here that this is the legal Proper Officer and the Responsible Financial Officer of the town council of New Mills who is making this deliberate false statement to a court.


How can one’s family make money from one’s appointment to a public sector position?

Is this a town’s honest public council or is it some kind of family firm?

A young lad - unconnected with the Stevens family - earned a small weekly payment from weekend opening etc of the toilets at High Lea Park and the Heritage Centre.

He was moved to one side and one of the Stevens’ offspring given the job.

Oh well, next time this job getting payment from public money falls vacant it will be advertised. Won’t it?

Not really. When one son didn't want it any more, the job was passed around the Stevens family to the next in line.

Oh well, definitely next time this job getting payment from public money falls vacant it will definitely be advertised. Won’t it?

Not really. There was a third youngster in the Stevens household, and this handy income had only been passed around two of them.

Public money being handed around to the kids in a kind of nepotism funding circle stopped with the suspension of Mrs Stevens from the roles of town clerk, Proper Officer and Responsible Financial Officer to the council.

It is relevant to Mrs Stevens' suspension and subsequent dismissal from the above important local government positions to note the following two facts.

Firstly, Mrs Stevens continued overseeing payments from the New Mills town council bank account to her family member (daughter Eleanor) even after Eleanor had left the country for the beaches of the Mediterranean.

Secondly, HMRC was not notified by Mrs Stevens of these regular payments in one of the applicable tax years.


Jobs for the girls. Again

The job of New Mills Heritage Centre Administrator carries a pay packet and some benefits.
Should a town clerk, Proper Officer and Responsible Financial Officer be actively promoting her personal friend’s wish to have that job?

The correct way is for the friend, in this case Mrs Marie Dudley, to simply apply independently in open recruitment in exactly the same way as any member of the public would have to.

Not in the New Mills town hall of the local Stevens family.

The agenda item for the appointment was written or overseen by Mrs Susan Stevens, overtly recommending her friend Mrs Dudley to get the paid position and not referring to any other candidate.


Choyce connections

Which brings us full circle to the Wendy Choyce connection.

When Jamie Stevens emailed his mother Mrs Susan Stevens on 28 June 2013, pushing the claims of Choyce People and denigrating the town council’s HR consultant, we can now see that he was merely following the established pattern of the Stevens family whilst they are in public life in the small town of New Mills, High Peak, Derbyshire.


Conclusion

Clearly, there is no suggestion that either Marie Dudley or Wendy Choyce have done anything wrong or unlawful in any of the above incidents.

However, it is equally clear that every link of this demonstrable chain of corruption in public life in New Mills has at least one member of the Stevens family firmly at one or both ends of it.

Finally, it is perhaps relevant to note that Mrs Stevens’ union’s solicitors refused to act for her in the Employment Tribunal claim she brought against the New Mills town council.

It is most respectfully suggested that to get a union solicitor to decline to act, where the opponent is a public body with all the rich pickings of compensation and costs etc that entails, takes some doing.





12 November 2014

Information Requested



Readers may be interested to see the text of a Freedom of Information Act request (below) being sent to New Mills town council today 12 November 2014.

The results of this information request, whatever they are, will be published here on High Peak Transparency.  Reaches the parts that local newspapers daren't reach.


"Dear Sirs

Freedom of Information Act Request

Please provide a copy of every individual invoice, credit note (if any), and statement of account received by New Mills Town Council from any entity controlled by or directly connected with Nicki Williams, the council’s former HR Consultant.

These would include but might not be limited to ‘Nicki Williams’, ‘Tall Poppies’, Tall Poppies Consultants Learning Training Development Ltd Ltd., etc.

If there is a charge for handling this FoI enquiry then please advise by return and it will be remitted immediately.

Please note I edit the local politics site ‘High Peak Transparency’ and will be publishing the town council’s ongoing responses to this Freedom of Information Act request.

There is a lot of justified public interest in the matter of how the former town clerk Mrs Susan Stevens came to be employed by New Mills town council in the legally critical local government roles of Proper Officer and Responsible Financial Officer and the consequent costs to the public of dismissal.

I appreciate that the administration staff’s hours of work may be being limited by the town council at present.

If so, I therefore urge the town council to permit the administrative staff to work whatever hours are necessary until all of the town council’s affairs are brought fully up to date and into proper order following the upheaval caused by necessary dismissal of the ex-town clerk.

Thank you in anticipation.
Yours truly etc"

11 November 2014

Complaint Made To Police About Some Accounting And Payments Relating To New Mills Town Council



At last night's New Mills Town council meeting a member of the public, Mr Mike Carter, made the following statement in the public speaking section, before the start of the council meeting.

High Peak Transparency prints it verbatim and in full:

"I understand this council employed a woman, named Nicki Williams, to carry out work as an HR consultant.

"It was subsequently discovered that Williams was a convicted criminal with fraud being her particular bent.  Again, and I do not know the exact figures, but I believe that a substantial amount of money has been paid to this woman by NMTC.  Indeed it was voted by this council to send her another £8,000 at last month’s meeting even though the council had been made aware at this stage of her criminal past for fraud offences.

"In view of this decision I decided to find out more about these events.  At this stage I would like to state, not to try and impress persuade or influence, that I am a retired police officer having served for 33 years with both Cheshire and Greater Manchester Police.  I retired as a Detective Chief Inspector spending almost the whole of my service investigating crime.  I mention this to show that I think I have the experience to make a considered opinion on facts that are true and available.

"I have had the opportunity to speak with several people, both professional people, solicitors etc, and ordinary working or retired people involved with these events.  I have also viewed documents alleged to be authentic, and without being able to reveal any details at this stage I am completely happy that there is enough evidence to support a police investigation into Williams, and whoever else may or may not be involved, to justify a criminal prosecution against her for contravening offences under the Theft Act 1968.

"I have made an official complaint to officers of Derbyshire Police and given them the evidence that I have obtained.  A criminal enquiry into Williams is now ongoing here and in other parts of Derbyshire.

"I would now like to know as a New Mills resident and council tax payer the exact amount this council has paid Williams and have sight of invoices breaking down all of alleged work done by her.
How do I progress this?

"I would appreciate a true interpretation of my statement in the minutes and not just a cursory act.  If there isn't I will be back next month."



Note:

In common with all articles on High Peak Transparency, there is a full right of reply for all persons who are mentioned in any article.  If the person referred to above wishes to send in a response in due course then it will be given equal prominence.

09 November 2014

Some Agenda Notes

In view of the recent focus on public life in New Mills, we now point readers towards some interesting items on the agenda for the next town council meeting (Monday 10 November).

Agog is a word not seen enough

A Stevens supporter earlier today
At public speaking, disgraced local councillor Alistair Stevens - if he honours the council with his presence - will probably want to make one of his announcements. This one may be about a fresh rumour that suddenly has the little band of Stevens supporters all agog.

Having spoken to a senior LibDem councillor today (Sunday), we can confirm that the small Stevens fan club has sharply and unrealistically raised their hopes of a good outcome for the dishonest sacked former town clerk of New Mills, Mrs Susan Stevens.

With all due respect, some of the Stevens supporters are confusing two separate things: on the one hand the Employment Tribunal that will judge the strength or otherwise of Mrs Stevens' case; and on the other hand claims that the town council might have been overcharged etc.

New Mills Heritage Centre

A few Heritage Centre items are on the agenda.

One wonders if the essential financial control mechanisms of a dedicated Bank Account and standalone monthly management accounts for the Heritage Centre will be put in place.

Without this proper financial reporting structure there is only heat and no light, and the local taxpayers - whose money is used to fund the Heritage Centre - are kept in the dark.

Don't ask for a job to be done and then deny the resources to do it

The current administrative situation in the town hall offices is made worse by well-meaning council decisions taken with the best of intentions.

For example at the last town council meeting, first some councillors demanded there be strict control over the number of hours the town clerk be permitted to work. Then, a bit later in the same meeting, other councillors loaded additional tasks onto the town clerk.

The key vacancy needs filling urgently

The ongoing agenda issue with the most serious implications, both now and for the future, is the need for urgent recruitment of a suitable, financially literate, law abiding permanent Responsible Financial Officer for the New Mills Town Council.

Once again, due to the absence of a permanent RFO in place, there are wholly unsatisfactory items on this council meeting agenda: next to both Accounts for Payment and Payments Received, there are the words "details to follow".

The law requires that all councillors have good clear notice of the financial decisions they are being asked to make. This is effected by sending out the necessary detailed documents with the agenda and summons to the council meeting.

"Details to follow" in these circumstances, i.e. for substantive financial decisions, is unlawful. The only solution is urgent appointment of a suitable permanent Responsible Financial Officer.

Rome was not built in a day. A lot of good work has been put in at the New Mills town hall following the firing of the dishonest former town clerk last year.

But further delay in filling this vacant post of permanent Responsible Financial Officer is asking for unnecessary trouble.

02 November 2014

Wasting Police Time, or Acts of Personal Malice




At a town hall event during the recent New Mills Festival, about 200 people including the town’s mayor were present in the town’s Public Hall.

A concert of music played by New Mills Band, together with guests Chapel-en-le-Frith Male Voice Choir, was the main performance.  However, unknown to music lovers and the town's general population, another less public performance was about to unfold behind the scenes.

False Alarm

At around 10pm, the alarm to a fire exit door went off.

How many false alarm soundings are there in the UK every year?  Hundreds of thousands? Could it be millions, over the course of a year in a country the size of the UK?

When the false alarm sounded in this case, the building’s caretaker switched the alarm off.

The Richter Scale of News

Normal people, in a normal town, would be expecting that to be where the story ends. Indeed, most normal people in a normal town would ask “What story?”

To gauge how newsworthy this false alarm event was, it didn’t even make the Buxton Advertiser or Glossop Chronicle. ‘Incorrect date for university talk’ and ‘Rescuers help injured cyclist’ are both genuine recent headlines in those newspapers.

If a piece of toast were to turn out with a likeness of Tony Audenshaw’s face on it, that would make the Buxton Advertiser or Glossop Chronicle.

‘Building’s false alarm switched off by caretaker’ failed to make the newspapers.


Sliding Doors Syndrome

Now here is where the story arc divides along two paths.

One path is the path of normality. In a town of relative normality, where the dishonest sacked ex-town clerk is not the friend of a current town hall caretaker - and wife of a current town councillor - you would never have heard of these events.

High Peak Transparency loves that path: the path of normality, and plain dealing with people, and no former councillors with the adjective ‘Dishonest’ before their names, and honest ex-town clerks who do not tell deliberate lies to councillors or get sacked from their job for gross misconduct.

Sadly, with this story we now follow the other path.

This is the path that this story actually took. Because the building where the false alarm went off is in New Mills, High Peak, Derbyshire.


Comments Campaign

Soon after the above false alarm event at the town hall, a stream of abusive comments along the following lines started coming in to High Peak Transparency.

All the comments were made anonymously.  None were backed up by the evidence that was requested by HPT in order to allow their truth or otherwise to be tested.

The following are all actual comments that were submitted for publication here The majority of them have not been published until now, because only now has it been definitively established that all of these comments bar one are utterly false:

"Dear webmaster - How come there's no mention of Councillor Lamb being caught red handed on Saturday breaking in to the Clerks office at New Mills Town Hall - its the talk of the town and you choose to ignore it which some would see as speaking volumes of the integrity of this blog."

"I think all these ridiculous things being said about the heritage centre are prob from those trying to have a pop at alistair stevens as he is chair of the management committee - the leader of the council should know better - he should also know better than to be breaking into council offices over saturday night. No doubt HPT ed wont be printing this true statement for fear of upsetting Mr Lamb. Transparency indeed."

"Obviously councilor lamb has HP Ed by the short and curlies therefore it shall only be spoken about and never mentioned on his blog - same goes for David Lamb breaking into the town hall premises weekend before last - what a great chairman of the town hall we have."

"Interesting that the editor of this web site totally washes over the awful recent behaviour by New Mills council leader at a public event in the town hall - he should rename this internet site to High peak 'selective' transparency"

"Police vehicle spotted outside councilor leader lambs house - I do hope he isn't in trouble."

"Mr. Editor, did the illegal entry into the Clerks' office by a councillor have anything to do with all this?"

"Why has there been a restraining order placed on Cllr. Lamb to stay away from the Town Hall"

"Is it true that Councillor Lamb has a restraining order against him coming in contact with the Town Hall caretaker"

All of the above comments are false, apart from a police officer going to Cllr Lamb’s house on the wild goose chase that was started by disgraced local councillor Alistair Stevens.

Just for the avoidance of doubt, there is no such office as “Leader” in town and parish council law (as stated in some of the above comments).

Councillor Lamb is not “Leader” and so far as we know has never claimed to be. Cllr Lamb is currently Chair of New Mills Town Council, which is a formal legal office lasting twelve months.

Under local government law, the chairman of a town council is also mayor of the town for the same period.


Councillor Alistair Stevens Makes An Announcement

The next event in this ever more fantastic tale was a public exchange of words taking place in the New Mills Town Council meeting on 13 October 2014.

Immediately after the brief Chair’s Report - which starts every town council meeting - the following exchange took place between councillors Alistair Stevens (AJS), David Lamb (DIL), and Mike Kirk (MRK):

AJS - “Can I just ask the chairman a question?”

DIL - “You can.”

AJS - “Yes I’m just wondering why you forgot to mention you have been reported to the police for attempting to break into the council offices.”

DIL - “And you have got proof of what?”

AJS - “No you have not mentioned that.”

DIL - “No.  Because what… why are you saying that?”

AJS - “No, I’m just interested why you haven’t.”

DIL - “And can you just repeat to council exactly what you just said.”

AJS - “I said I’m wondering why you haven’t reported that you’ve been reported to the police for attempting to break into the council offices.”

DIL - “And that’s come to my attention how?”

AJS - “I sent an email to you that somebody had mentioned it to myself.”

DIL - “Yes. And?”

MRK - “Somebody had.  I’m sorry Mr Chairman.”

AJS - “Somebody had mentioned it to myself and the caretaker confirmed that and I was with him when he reported it to the police.”

DIL - “Yes.  And would the police come and see me?”

AJS - “Err… they will be doing.”

DIL - “They will be doing.  Right, well when they turn up then we will discuss it with them then.”

AJS - “Yes.”

DIL - “Thank you.”


The Police Are Called

The good officers of the Derbyshire Constabulary were doubtless surprised to have a burglary or attempted break-in reported to them in this particular case.  A few reasons spring to mind:

Burglars are not usually wearing mayoral regalia and a formal suit etc when caught in the act.

Nor do burglars have full official access to the property they are burgling. That rather defeats the need for any burglary or attempted break-in there.

Burglars tend not to choose buildings where there are dozens of people there who either know the perpetrator personally, or know him by sight.

A witness interview might go something like this:

“Was anyone else present during the burglary?”

“There had been about 200 people. But by the time of the dastardly act it was nearly deserted. Only several dozen people were there.”

“What did the burglar look like?”

“I don’t know.  Oh, except he was wearing a mayoral chain.”

“Who did he remind you of?”

“Well, a town mayor.”


Can’t Derbyshire Police issue a warning against this kind of abuse?

Wasting police time means wasting valuable resources that all taxpayers contribute towards.

High Peak Transparency understands that the person who reported the non-existent 'crime' to the police was in fact Alistair Stevens.  This is in spite of his council meeting statement about the reporting to the police that "somebody mentioned it to myself.”

This time, he and his spouse have invited the caretakers of council property into their malicious vendetta.

Wasting police time is a crime.  But will anybody face the consequences of their vindictive actions in this case?