Some Councillors Angry Over Attempts To ‘Muzzle’ Them

Some Isles of Scilly Councillors say they are angry at what they say are attempts to ‘muzzle’ them over the Council’s governance crisis.

The press and public had to leave Tuesday’s Council Planning Meeting to allow Director Penny Penn-Howard to advise members on what they could say to the press and public over the Bryce Wilby suspension.

Penny suggested that they say nothing, but that approach hasn’t worked. Four Councillors have told us they won’t be told what they can and cannot say by a member of their staff.

Penny suggested that Councillors’ comments could be seized upon by Mr Wilby’s representatives. Their remarks could be used by his team as the basis for an increased financial settlement made to the suspended head teacher.

She is said to have told members it all comes down to money.

It’s unclear whether Council management now feel Mr Wilby will receive a payment to compensate for his suspension. The Council press office wouldn’t answer our questions about that.

Gordon Bilsborough is unhappy that Ms Penn-Howard addressed members in the private meeting.

Gordon told us: “No officer can start telling an elected member what they can and can’t say and I resent that deeply.”

He says he suspects now that some information has been withheld from some members, adding, “We’re a democratic society and they can’t deny elected members information that they should know.”

In the closed-door session, Councillors were also advised that a BBC Cornwall reporter was on St Mary’s and asking questions about the school and Council. One Councillor named him and revealed where he was staying, suggesting that members be on their guard as they may not recognize him and could inadvertently reveal facts.

Ms Penn-Howard is also said to have explained to Councillors that they didn’t have to answer questions from the public about what had happened at the school. Some members may feel that they had to respond but they shouldn’t feel obligated, she advised

One Councillor reportedly asked why the Chief Executive, Philip Hygate, wasn’t there to answer the Councillor’s questions in person. Penny Penn-Howard is said to have asked Councillors to trust her and that she’d be able to say more at a future date.

Some Councillors feel that a rift has developed between Cornwall Council’s auditors who carried out the investigation into the alleged financial irregularities, and the Islands’ Council over this issue.

Penny is reported to have been unhappy that Cornwall had issued a press release saying their auditors report was finished and without running it past her. Penny said it hadn’t been signed off yet.

However, it seems that Cornwall could be distancing itself from the islands’ Council ahead of the release of their final report into Bryce’s suspension.

The findings are meant to be presented to the Full Council on September 27th, but Tuesday night’s private session revealed that it might not be ready by then.

Radio Scilly sent a list of question to the Council press office but they declined to answer any of them.

Instead, they replied with a statement saying: “The Council appreciates that there is significant interest in recent events relating to the departure of the School’s Head teacher. There are however ongoing legal discussions relating to those issues, so it would be inappropriate for anyone at the Council to make comments about any related matters at this stage.

“Rest assured that the Council is taking appropriate advice from its officers and legal advisers, and that a statement will be issued at the appropriate time. The Council’s overriding aim of course remains the smooth and efficient running of the School, and the interests of staff, parents and pupils, as well as the island community as a whole.”

 



9 Responses to Some Councillors Angry Over Attempts To ‘Muzzle’ Them

  1. Tony Brown September 21, 2012 at 8:27 am

    As a regular visitor to the islands for the last 50 years, I am agog. This is all smoke and mirrors. I was under the impression that we now had open governance throughout the UK with answerability. I know Scilly is special, but this is riduculous: information, contolled by non-elected employees, given by leak and rumour. As has been rightly highlighted, if the dismissal decision was correct, there would be no issue of compensation. I would respectfully suggest that councillors require their council offices to give them full disclosure rather than being told by them what they can or cannot say.

  2. Steve Sims September 21, 2012 at 12:44 am

    There are at least a couple of interesting points here. Firstly this is effectively a prima facie acknowledgement that there is a council liability. Increase the settlement is not the same as a possible settlement, it is in effect an admission of culpability. Secondly there is clearly a huge lack of trust between officers and (at least 4) councillors, which has been broadly hinted at previously, but this gives it flesh. And further some council officers have little faith in the reliability of councillors to tow what has become the party line. But if there is a party line (and whether there should be is a dubious point in these circumstances), it should come from councillors not officers.

    I can’t comment on Bryce proficiency as a head teacher, but having heard Maria’s interview you would have to be a complete Machiavellian b******d to think that Bryce has been treated fairly since May 18th. Obviously until (if) the full report comes out, one can’t be too judgemental. But given the current situation in which parts of the Local Authority are throwing the most scurrilous (and unsubstantiated) mud they can find, it doesn’t seem likely that there is much ammunition left.

    This whole thing is like The Thick Of It with a Rumanian script editor helped by seven year old Pole who’s almost grasped holiday English. Which is possibly why it isn’t funny.

    Transparency is clearly not on the agenda, opacity is.

    And has anyone given any thought to the fact that no capable head teacher in their right mind would want Bryce’s job, because they all know about this.

  3. ritchie September 20, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    beyond belief, an absolute disgrace, shamefull, unprofessional! The results of all investigations and enquiry’s have to be made totaly public or our council will lose what little respect they have left !

  4. Jenny September 20, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    If this statement is correctly reported, then the Director of Community Services has implied there will be a financial pay out to Mr Wilby in regard to his suspension from duty. The Councillors, including the Chairman of the Council, have repeated, that the suspension of Mr Wilby was justified and we ( the public) need to trust them (the Councillors) over this. Now a statement has been made, if correctly reported, about a pay out to Mr Wilby and the Councillors must keep their comments to themsleves to prevent an even greater payout. Why would Ms PenHH even mention the word payout, if the Isles of Scilly Officers made the correct decision, ie: in the interests of the safe and sustainable running of the 5 Island Schools in suspending the Head Master?

  5. Todd Stevens September 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Why wouldnt Penny say where Mr Hygate was. If she knew somthing then why did she have to with hold that information? Once again they are leading our councillors a merry dance. Its time to put a stop to this nonsense and hand out some discipline.

    It seems from this that scare tactics are going to be employed to muzzle our councillors. It is the officers who are the ones who should be worrying about what Mr Wilby will do, not the councillors whom have been kept in the dark at each and every turn.

  6. Stuart September 20, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Ms Pen-Howard suggested that Councillors’ comments could be seized upon by Mr Wilby’s
    representatives. Their remarks could be used by his team as the basis for an increased
    financial settlement made to the suspended head teacher. She is said to have told members
    it all comes down to money.

    I’d say it comes down to the the senior officers trying to save face.

    Ms Penn-Howard is also said to have explained to Councillors that they didn’t have to
    answer questions from the public about what had happened at the school……er excuse me
    but the councillors are our elected representatives and you Ms Pen-Howard are just an
    employee of the council and therefore you answer to the electorate as well, so please
    could you explain why you feel that councillors should not answer questions from the
    people they represent.

    Gordon Bilsborough is unhappy that Ms Penn-Howard addressed members in a private
    meeting and suspects that some information has been withheld from members,
    adding, “We’re a democratic society and they can’t deny elected members information that
    they should know.”, This is the Isles of Scilly council we’re talking about here Gordon, I think
    you’ll find that freedom of information requests are often refused or ignored and have to be
    referred to the information commissioner.

    The phrase “economical with the truth” is one that often comes to mind.

  7. Jenny September 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Odd thing to say. Everything we have heard from the Isles of Scilly Council so far has informed us that they were justified in their actions againist Mr Wilby. Now a senior officer is talking paying compensation out to him. Compensation is paid out to the victim by the wrong dooer. Why mention the term compensation at all, if you are justified in treating Mr Wilby as the Council Officers did?

  8. Stavropol September 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    There will be a journalists tent going up just up from the police station, to the left going up the hill. All cameras and microphones directed up the hill…….. Will there be an appearance today, or another ‘no show’?

  9. Lawrence Upton September 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    The Sun is also in the islands although I am not sure they are looking into anything so polysyllabic as education