‘Climate Of Fear’ In Scilly Discussed In Heart Question Time

“Terrible things have happened in the islands in the last few months and they must be stopped.”

That was the view of Tim Guthrie, a panellist on the citizen voice group, Heart of Scilly‘s Question Time session last night.

98 locals attended the 90-minute meeting in a two-thirds full Town Hall.

MP Andrew George, Council Director of Finance Peter Lawrence-Roberts, Heart’s Adrian Davis and Pat Hayden also answered pre-submitted questions in the session, which was moderated by Maureen Stuttaford.

Adrian explained that Heart won’t now be a political party but a collection of locals with similar goals and he hoped that more islanders would stand for election to the Council in May.

From Radio Scilly

Peter Lawrence-Roberts talks to Keri Jones

That pleased Andrew George who felt that the idea of a party should be “advanced with care.”

Patrick Brown asked whether a party system would be more effective as members would act with “one voice” but some attendees argued that party political groups were not part of Scilly life and shouldn’t be.

Adrian felt that the group has achieved a great deal as Councillors are now talking about locals’ concerns. He said it has been hard running a democratic group and not everyone approved of the petition requesting the suspension of the Chief Executive.

It wasn’t a Heart campaign and he wanted to make it clear that he wasn’t involved in it.

Despite requests to stay away from discussing individuals, the Council Chief Executive was the subject of many questions and comments.

 

Scrutiny of Chief Executive

 

Carmen Stevens wanted to know whether Philip Hygate’s performance could be scrutinised by an outside agency. Peter Lawrence said he was being assessed by members twice a year, but Councillors could decide to bring in an independent to do it.

We asked Peter whether he felt the Chief Executive of the Council should have attended as many of the issues raised appeared to be about him. He said he didn’t feel that was necessary, as long as someone was representing the Council and listening to people’s views.

But Peter said he was sure Philip would be interested to hear what has happened and he would be reporting back to him, “even the difficult issues.”

Strong views about the ‘climate of fear’ in the islands were shared. One attendee claimed that more locals than you would expect have been ‘paid off’ with legal settlements.

Tim Guthrie quoted the phrase, ‘power corrupts’ to illustrate his concerns

Todd Stevens told the panel that islanders lived in fear of retribution if they upset Chief Officers. He felt this could mean a loss of Council contracts, employment or a failure to gain planning consent.

Peter said this worried him. He said anyone should be able to disagree with any Chief Officer, and in his experience, they do. He said that’s right and proper and part of democracy.

If there are people who feel like this, “and clearly there are” he said he’d be happy to talk to them and try to deal with it.

And if locals don’t feel they can talk with him they could go to the auditor if it is a financial matter or the Local Government Ombudsman.

Peter says he was aware that some locals were unhappy but was surprised at the strength of feeling.

He said, “If I’ve learnt nothing else this evening, I’ve got a real measure of the strength of that feeling and can work towards doing something about it.”

Peter added that the real achievements of the Council get lost because of the negative feelings in the community.

Andrew George was pleased that Peter was taking it seriously. The MP said it wasn’t a new theme and he felt that a mainland perception that island life was idyllic wasn’t necessarily so.

He said many people had raised concerns with him about a ‘climate of fear’ on many different occasions and it was, “more plausible on Scilly than in a large local authority.”

Stuart Moore questioned how islanders could object to Council officers’ actions, when the Ombudsman sent correspondence back to the senior staff who were the subject of the complaint.

Specific and general Council staffing issues were also raised.

Nigel Hudson felt the Chief Fire Officer shouldn’t command a high salary for one day a week. He felt the role could be fulfilled on one day a year.

Richard Chiverton asked whether the Council actually needed 240 staff. Peter said there were 137 full-time equivalents which brought a heckle from Pat Hicks who said that there were only 20 staff 20 years ago.

Peter said the Chief Fire Officer had his pay set on a national scale and many Town Hall roles were statutory. He added that most Council staff work hard and that brought a laugh from the audience.

 

‘Tail Wagging The Dog’

 

A general theme of ‘the tail wagging the dog,’ suggesting senior staff set policy in the Council, was suggested by some attendees.

Peter Lawrence-Roberts said that Councillors should set policy and staff make decisions. Andrew added that he didn’t expect members to micromanage but a number of locals referred to Chairman Mike Hicks’ comments that he didn’t always hear what was going on until it was reported on Radio Scilly.

There’s a clear message that senior Council staff need to engage with and communicate with the community better.

Peter said he’s than man the locals can go to if they want to share concerns and he’s happy to meet them away from the Town Hall. He said he doesn’t have specific examples or cases and that’s where they need to start.

But Barnselie Ward pointed out that he had been here for 79 years and Peter had been in Scilly for 5 years. Barneslie said he had never seen Peter before.

The MP suggested that a working party of Councillors and non-Councillors could help the Council identify ways in which concerns may be addressed. And one idea was to have an external body provide this.

Juliet May asked questions about school governance. She wanted to know whether staff governors flagged up any concerns in board meetings prior to the head teachers’ suspension. Nobody could answer that.

Peter was asked about the Council’s process for addressing inappropriate use of a laptop. He said there was a set process which allowed the accused to consult unions and answer allegations.

We asked Peter whether he attended the meeting just because Council Chief Officers were worried about their own positions as locals were angry. One term that has been coined on social networking, referring to the revolt in Arab countries by citizens, is the “Scilly Spring.”

Peter said he was invited along and very pleased to accept the invitation, and feels the coining of that term illustrates the strength of the feeling.

Heart’s Adrian Davis said he was pleased with how the session went. He said he wanted to encourage more dialogue with the Council and said he’s grateful for the work the Councillors do. But he said some of the problems are due to a lack of discussion and a full understanding behind some of the issues.

He said he still feels there is a deep underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Heart will continue to hold meetings like the one last night. Councillor surgeries, to solicit feedback, were also suggested.

 



14 Responses to ‘Climate Of Fear’ In Scilly Discussed In Heart Question Time

  1. IanT. July 22, 2012 at 9:40 am

    There have been complaints about the lack of knowledge of the contents of meetings, etc. Under the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ I believe one has the right of access to anything other than items of national security.

  2. Em J July 21, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Perhaps I’ve not been on the receiving end because I don’t treat them any differently than I would anyone else, or maybe because I don’t publicly slate them then expect their support, who knows. An anonymous survey would be an excellent idea, and considering 40+ of Five Islands School staff have already signed a vote of confidence in the Chief Executive then perhaps the results would not be in your favour as you expect. I’m not saying there isn’t a problem, of course there is. All I’m saying is, not everyone thinks the council is a waste of time and money, and not everyone dislikes the Chief Exec. A good many have issues which is fair enough, they are problems that councils on the mainland face too no doubt.

    As for levels of work, I’d be ‘working my butt off’ on the mainland if not here, and quite frankly I’d rather be here. That’s personal choice, just like people’s opinions of the council, choice is something we all have and we shouldn’t be pressured into thinking.

    I agree that the council needs a fresh start, but perhaps if we can turn this into something positive then we can all move forward by firstly thinking that these officers are people who can make the change happen providing we tell them about the problems, instead of scaring people into thinking they are all out to get us! I hate to say it, but sometimes people do go the wrong way about things, and I feel if they were more constructive, people would actually take them seriously. It’s no good saying ‘I hate the Chief Exec he’s an idiot’ then expecting him to take your comments for more than your personal opinionated ramblings. You need to tell him your problems before saying he won’t do anything… he can’t be expected to act if he doesn’t know what we want! If we want change we need to say so, and address the problem rather than simply going around saying it’s all someone else’s fault.

    • Todd Stevens July 22, 2012 at 12:27 am

      Its all about perspective. A leopard cant change its spots.

    • Todd Stevens July 22, 2012 at 8:10 am

      I dont think the council is a waste of time but there is no doubt that all councils waste vast amounts of money. But this is not the issue here. No doubt tjhere are those whom, like yourself, have been unaffected by council staff, and some rightfully support those discussed. But there are far more whom have been affected and we want change. Is that really too much to ask!? There are different ways to govern people EmJ-is it not better with their respect rather than their fear? . We need the better way.

  3. Stuart July 21, 2012 at 9:59 am

    @EM J
    If you feel that the senior officers of the council welcome contradiction, criticism, scrutiny or debate then you are lucky enough not to have been on the receiving end of their displeasure. Throw a paper clip and you will probably hit someone who can tell you different.

    How about holding an anonymous care survey of council workers asking if they are happy in their employment and with their senior managers (officers). If the council staff felt they could speak without retribution then the answers gained might surprise you.

    With regard to the staff numbers and level or work…..
    I have mixed feelings towards the council, yes it is over staffed, 300 odd people to administer a population of 2000 and in some ways I would like to see the council wound up and the admin side of it given to Cornwall with just a small staff dealing with the day to day infrastructure requirements. The Councillors could also be reduced to say 6, 1 for each off island and 2 for St Mary’s.
    The down side of this is that the council is the largest employer on the islands and without them there would be mass unemployment, so its a tough one.

    Regarding the levels of work, well what’s the point of living in a place like this if you’re going to work your butt off?
    There will always be ignorance when it comes to other people thinking they work harder than everyone else, I think the real issue is whether the work being done by the council is that efficient?, for instance Moorswell dump, or the fact the council refused Keir Western planning permission for the portacabins for 6 months until the start of the holiday season, or the route partnership etc etc etc.

    The council does need a fresh start, new people, new ethos

    • Tamar July 21, 2012 at 1:29 pm

      Some people can only live here because they work their butt off!

  4. Em J July 21, 2012 at 9:08 am

    I work for the council, and I work damn hard just like everyone else. I have two jobs and I’m not in a ‘high up’ role in either nor do I get paid a lot. But I work hard and often put more into my job, and go the extra mile to help out. So it angers me to hear that people were laughing when Peter said council staff work hard. Don’t tar everyone with the same brush.

    On a separate note, I have a few issues with the council which I’ve raised with the necessary people in the council and with people outside. I wasn’t fearful or worried about my job because of this, I felt able to go and talk about the issues, and I know that now the council are aware of them something can get done. And if it doesn’t I will take it higher, which the council are aware of, and I’m not afraid of doing so.

    The reason I didn’t attend the HEART meeting was because I don’t agree with all of their views and I don’t feel a pressure group trying to speak for everyone by suggesting the people that didn’t come are terrified employees of the council or those in council houses, is the best way forward. I understand that some people are scared to speak to the council about problems, eg those who live in council housing. Perhaps if there wasn’t so much scaremongering and more people actually talking to people in the council and going through proper channels to make a complaint, for example, then perhaps people would realize that they are perfectly free to make a comment without being scared to do so. Certain members of the community – and sometimes even council staff – seem to dehumanize the Chief Exec and Chief Officers, and by doing so create this fear for everyone else. Instead of listening to these people, why not go to the council offices and see for yourself what these people are like, and perhaps you would feel more at ease to raise issues with them.

  5. Todd Stevens July 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    I think Tim meant to say “terrible things over the years” but we could debate it all bit by bit forever. The simple fact is that this community cannot move forward with things as they stand. Change is wanted, needed, and has been called for. Council affairs that lead on to effect the state of mind of many has been so poorly handled that many people are now afraid to speak out against it. Our Chairman needs to put this right immediately. A good start would be for him to ask for a resignation at the top or write out the P45. Only then can we feel free enough to move on with confidence under a new regime-with new ideas and a blank page before us.

  6. Tamar July 20, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    I work for the council. I do work hard and my job is necessary. I didn’t attend because I didn’t have a babysitter, but I do feel strongly about the issues raised. I wouldn’t say that I’m afraid to raise them, I have written to Andrew George on several occasions. But I don’t thing that anyone would like to antagonise their employer too much!

  7. Simon July 20, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    “Terrible things have happened”? A little disproportionate. The head teacher has resigned from the school after coming under investigation. Not everyday stuff I agree, but hardly terrible. Unless of course Tim is referring to the chief officers pay? disappointing maybe, immoral and untimely maybe but not “Terrible”. Maybe he’s referring to Porthcressas regeneration, what will hopefully be an asset to the islands for many years to come. A great shame for this summer but the benefits will be there for the future. I can’t help but feel that the use of immotive language makes it sound like we’ve had a potato famine or major loss of life rather than a difficult situation in the school which has been complicated by people insisting they be told about things which are a confedential.

  8. Stuart July 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    @Frank,
    Don’t forget all those people who work for the council, or have contracts with the council or who live in council housing who feel that they could not attend for fear of reprisal, which was one of the meetings main topics.

  9. Kayte July 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    @ Frank
    Please take into consideration that July and August are the busiest summer holiday months here on the islands and many people simply aren’t ABLE to attend a meeting like this. It doesn’t mean that they are indifferent and they may indeed be part of the majority view but they are simply not counted as such because they didn’t attend this meeting.
    Furthermore, I don’t believe your cynical comment adds anything constructive to this discussion.

  10. Frank Gray July 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    98 out of 2000 odd, that’s such a “majority” view isn’t it? As usual the loudest shouters with personal agendas are the ones that seem to make the “News”.

  11. Stuart July 20, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Mr Moore also asked if we could have an itemised bill detailing the chief executives spend with Cornwall council’s legal team, itemising each individual action, the reason and the cost so we the tax payer can see if this money has been spent in the best interests of the “taxpayer”