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York councillors' gifts disclosure system to be reviewed
THE expenses and hospitality system for York’s councillors could be overhauled amid claims many are failing to declare everything they should.
City of York Council legal bosses have been asked to review the authority’s register of interests after its leader, James Alexander, said a string of “apparent discrepancies” had emerged.
The Press can reveal Sonja Crisp, cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism, is being investigated over “disclosure of personal interests”, following a complaint to the standards office that she did not declare her son, Carl Carrington, was an official for Blackpool Council. York and Blackpool last year formed a tourism partnership, which falls within Coun Crisp’s portfolio.
At the same time, Labour has sent a list of possible issues relating to 15 councillors from the opposing Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green groups to the council’s chief legal officer, Andrew Docherty, although it does not include any Labour members.
The process for councillors declaring gifts and hospitality, as well as their jobs and homes, has recently changed, and Labour said this may have caused confusion across all parties. Coun Alexander said many councillors had not declared everything they should, although Tory leader Ian Gillies said Couns Alexander and Crisp had “suddenly updated” their own records.
Coun Crisp states in her entry to the register that it would be “ridiculous” for her to record all invitations she received, given the quantity, saying she would need administrative help. Council rules say councillors should declare gifts or hospitality soon after receipt, but in recent weeks Coun Crisp has added 18 entries, some dating back to 2010.
She said all entries related to “legitimate council business” and she had not been aware some older entries had to be declared, but had realised this was “an oversight”.
Coun Alexander said: “It is right councillors should be transparent and keep their public registers of interests accurate and up-to-date.
“It is important these cross-party discrepancies are resolved quickly. I will be calling a meeting of all group leaders to discuss the matter and am also asking the chief legal officer to clarify what is relevant to declare.”
Conservative leader Coun Ian Gillies said Labour’s list was “a sad and petty attempt” to deflect attention from Labour’s budget deficit and the recent resignation of one of their councillors.
He said: “We won’t be stooping to their level except to point out it appears Coun Alexander and Crisp have suddenly updated their own registers of interest. This slapdash rush to judgement is endemic of Labour’s incompetence.”
Coun Crisp said: “I have always been open that my son is employed by Blackpool Council. This complaint is politically-motivated, but will not distract us from working with other councils to save money and improve services.
“The council leader has requested a shake-up of the system for declaring interests as there is not complete clarity on when and where cabinet members, the Lord Mayor, group leaders and Visit York directors are supposed to make such declarations, with all parties falling foul of the current system in one way or another”.
Labour’s claims included that Rural West York councillor Paul Healey had “seemingly not declared a second home” after gaining planning permission to convert a city-centre building he owns into a house.
Coun Healey said the property was undergoing “extensive building work” and “currently uninhabitable”. He said: “I thank Labour for pointing out my lapse in updating the records, but although I own two properties, I only have one home.”
Lib Dem leader Carol Runciman branded the list “an attempt to smear political opponents” and said it was “riddled with factual errors”. She said changes to the register meant some previously-declared gifts no longer showed up online and said her group considered some of Labour’s claims “potentially libellous”.
Green leader Andy D’Agorne claimed Labour was “political point-scoring” and should have approached group leaders privately. He said: “I am more than happy to work to tackle any discrepancies or failings, but not in an atmosphere of recrimination”.