It remains curious why Alan Jarrett, the Leader of Medway Council, promoted Mackness to the Children’s Services portfolio, even after the original allegations came to light.
We reached out to the Medway Conservative group for comment on this story, and received this response to the situation from Cllr Mackness:
“It is imperative for elected Members to be transparent in their work, as I am at all times, which is why I declared my interest at Hook Meadow in the first instance, along with my other declarations. The declaration in relation to Hook Meadow was incorrect and was not a pecuniary interest at all and should not have been listed. I have no financial interest in this site at all and it has been removed. This is pure administrative error on my part.
Whilst I of all people am keen for this to be resolved, there is a process that must be followed, I have co-operated completely with Medway Council’s legal department, and should the Police be in contact, I will be pleased to assist them in any way that I can to conclude this matter.
When this matter is concluded I will be asking for a review of the whole process, having been unable to comment or be interviewed at any stage by the Councillor conduct committee, which is a ridiculous situation.
The matter raised by the Labour group is a clear attempt to damage my reputation and nothing else.”
The Medway Labour group have formally written to Medway Council’s Monitoring Officer to complain about the actions of Conservative councillor for River ward, Andrew Mackness, alleging a breach of the council’s rules regarding conflicts of interest.
Cllr Mackness and the Hook Meadow redevelopment
Cllr Mackness is part of the governing cabinet of Medway Council, as the portfolio holder for Children’s Services. As such, any decisions the council needs to take about redeveloping or selling off council assets would be a decision for him and the other nine cabinet members.
On 12 February 2016, Cllr Mackness added a new role to his register of interests: ‘Consultant Hook Meadow Library Site Redevelopment’. This in itself may have raised a few eyebrows as at the time there were no known council plans to redevelop the Hook Meadow site, but there’s nothing problematic about this appointment in itself.
Things took a bit of a turn on 7 June, when an item appeared on the cabinet agenda that involved the disposal and redevelopment on a number of council sites, including Hook Meadow. According to the minutes of the meeting, no disclosable conflicts of interest were recorded:
As per the council’s code of conduct (set out below), Cllr Mackness should have removed himself from the discussion the disposal of the Hook Meadow site, but he remained in the room, and voted for the disposal and redevelopment of the site.
Following the council’s processes, the Medway Labour group ‘called in’ the disposal of Hook Meadow and another community centre, claiming they were being carried out without proper consultation. As such, on 9 August, the issue once again returned to cabinet for discussion. Once again, the minutes again show no declaration of interest from Cllr Mackness, despite another cabinet member declaring a similar interest and removing themselves from the room:
Once again, Cllr Mackness took part in the discussion on the proposals for Hook Meadow, and once again voted for the disposal of the site:
The Medway Council Code of Conduct sets out the rights and responsibilities of all councillors when it comes to declaring interests outside of their council role:
You must act solely in the public interest and should never improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage on any person or act to gain financial or other material benefits for yourself, your family, a friend or close associate.
You must not place yourself under a financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence you in the performance of your official duties.
When carrying out your public duties you must make all choices, such as making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards or benefits, on merit.
You must declare any Disclosable Pecuniary Interests as required by law.
You must, when using or authorising the use by others of the resources of your authority, ensure that such resources are not use improperly for political purposes (including party political purposes) and you must have regard to any applicable Local Authority Code of Publicity made under the Local Government Act 1986.
The Code of Conduct goes on to state that all entries to the register of interests must be complete and up to date, and states the following regarding the participation in relevant meetings:
Unless dispensation has been granted, you may not participate in any discussion of or vote onto any matter in which you have a DPI.
Failure, without reasonable excuse, to comply with the above provisions as to notification and disclosure of DPIs and participation in a matter in which you have a DPI is a criminal offence in accordance with section 34 of the Localism Act 2011.
Unless dispensation has been granted, you must leave the room during any discussion of or vote on any matter in which you have a DPI.
Following all of this, Cllr Vince Maple, leader of the Medway Labour group, has written to Perry Holmes, the Monitoring Officer of the council, to ask whether the actions of Cllr Mackness have been appropriate.
Cllr Maple suggests that Cllr Mackness has not met the seven principles of councillors – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. He goes on to ask further questions, the answers of which are all in the public interest:
All Councillors are given access to Council officers. Consultants for developers are not. Has Councillor Mackness received access to Council officers in his capacity as a ‘Consultant’ that he would not have received were he not a Councillor?
Do you believe that it was appropriate for a Councillor to be voting, in his capacity as a Cabinet member, on a decision on which he clearly has a vested interest?
Do you believe that it is right for the Leader of the Council to keep Councillor Mackness in post knowing that he would be voting on a decision which would directly influence him in his role as a ‘Consultant’?
Clearly, these are all questions that need answering. That Cllr Mackness chose to both declare his interest in the redevelopment and participate in meetings where decisions on it would be taken is questionable at best. That the leader of the council allowed this to go on without question shows anything from poor judgment to outright arrogance.
It’s unclear exactly what will happen from here. The council’s internal procedures for dealing with complaints are notoriously toothles, the system being so perverse that a panel made up primarily of his colleagues would assess the issue. At the very least though, it allows the Medway Labour group to make some noise about such things, as they will tomorrow (13 October) when Cllr Griffiths asks the following slightly awkward question at full council:
It may well be that, despite all of the above, Cllr Mackness hasn’t done anything that formally breaks the code of conduct. But if that is indeed the case – and that a paid ‘consultant’ on a redevelopment is allowed to vote on the very same redevelopment – it does raise very serious questions about the rules that are currently in place.
Update 14 October: The matter has now been referred to the police. More details here.
Reviewing the Boundary Review
On Tuesday, the Boundary Commission for England unveiled their proposed new constituency boundaries. There were no huge changes for Medway, but a fair number of little ones. Higham will be brought into the Rochester and Strood constituency, Lordswood and Capstone will move to Gillingham and Rainham, and Chatham and Aylesford is set to become Chatham and the Mallings. The proposed boundaries are now subject to a lengthy consultation period, so it’ll be next year before we hear any final plans.
In a rare bout of organisation, the Medway Lib Dems managed to be the first party to select their candidate for the Strood South by-election. In an even more unusual step, they’ve selected a new – and young – candidate, 18 year old activist Isabelle Cherry. Cherry’s campaign will apparently focus on issues like school improvement, litter, and public transport, so all fairly safe, but at the least the Medway Lib Dems are putting up a fight once again.
Return of the Iles
In perhaps the least surprising Strood South selection, the Conservatives have selected Josie Iles as their candidate for the Strood South by-election. Iles is a former mayor of Medway, and was the Councillor for Strood South up until losing her seat to UKIP last year. Going into the election, she remains the odds on favourite to retake the seat.
Other Strood South candidates Not much else to report on the Strood South by-election front, despite the fact that the election is a mere 31 days until the election takes place. UKIP have two candidates to choose between (one being former local chairman Chris Spalding), Medway Labour have about 800 people putting themselves forward, and the Greens apparently have a candidate, but are busy filling out the paperwork to announce who it is.
Councillor allowances As per their legal obligations, Medway Council recently published the details of councillor allowances paid for 2015-2016. The small problem with this is that they seemingly did a horrifically sloppy job with it, as Medway blogger Alan Collins covered in forensic detail. The sheer number of errors in the document raises serious concerns about the openness and transparency of Medway Council.
Following last week’s sad passing of Councillor Mike O’Brien, a necessary reshuffle took this week within the Cabinet. Councillor Andrew Mackness will take over O’Brien’s education portfolio, with new Councillor Martin Potter taking on the new portfolio of educational improvement. The former corporate services portfolio of Councillor Mackness will be split amongst several other Cabinet members.
This morning saw the Boundary Commission for England publish the first proposals for their 2018 boundary review. The aim of the review is to reduce the number of MPs in parliament to 600 from 650, as well as creating roughly equal size constituencies. As you can imagine, this has caused some quite dramatic changes to the electoral map to be proposed.
But what do the changes mean for Medway and it’s three parliamentary constituencies?
Rochester and Strood
By and large, Rochester and Strood remains broadly unchanged from it’s current layout. Some of the bizarre quirks remain, such as Chatham town centre remaining part of Rochester and Strood. The only significant change is the addition of Higham to the west of the constituency. Higham is not part of Medway on a council level (it falls under Gravesham), so it’s curious to see it moved into a primarily Medway constituency.
Gillingham & Rainham
Also remaining largely unchanged in Gillingham and Rainham, which sees the addition of Lordswood and Capstone from the Chatham and Aylesford constituency. While the Capstone part of the ward might be a logical fit, it’s a bit of a stretch to consider Lordswood as part of Gillingham and Rainham, but here we are.
Chatham and Aylesford
Chatham and Aylesford has always been a sprawling constituency, but the new version, now dubbed Chatham and The Mallings takes things to new heights. The area within Medway is reduced yet further with the loss of Lordswood and Capstone, and yet large swathes of Walderslade still remain outside of any Medway constituency.
While some of these proposals are something of a mess and not hugely helpful for local identity, they do make more sense than the previous proposals, which saw such strange suggestions as Hempstead and Wigmore joining Chatham, and Luton and Wayfield joining Gillingham. We have not assessed the electoral consequences for our MPs here, and at first glance, we’d suggest they will face no major changes from these proposals.
The consultation period for the new boundaries runs until 5 December, and the public are invited to offer feedback on them via the Boundary Commission’s 2018 Review website.
Cllr Brown-Reckless resigns from Medway Council In a move that surprised absolutely no one, UKIP councillor for Strood South Catriona Brown-Reckless this week resigned from the council, having been elected only 16 months ago. This triggers a by-election in the Strood South ward, with a three way fight between UKIP, the Conservatives, and Labour for the seat taking place on October 20.
Remembering Mike O’Brien
Sad news this week as councillor Mike O’Brien, Conservative representative of Rainham Central and portfolio holder for Children’s Services, passed away. Mike had been a longstanding member of the local political scene, first being elected to Gillingham Borough Council in 1976 and Kent County Council in 1979.
Not for the first time, the ruling Cabinet of Medway Council managed to conduct their business in record time this week. Despite having to discuss discretionary business rates relief for local charities and not for profit organisations, government proposals on the distribution of business rates, and a recruitment freeze, they managed to have everything wrapped up in 15 minutes. Because that’s how open and transparent democracy is done.
Plans that could quite literally change the shape of Medway politics will be unveiled on Tuesday, as the Boundary Commission release the first stage of their 2018 boundary review. The review is intended to reduce parliament to 600 seats from 650, and create constituencies of roughly equal size. Reasonable enough at first glance, but previous proposals have suggested moving Hempstead & Wigmore into Chatham and Aylesford, and Luton & Wayfield into Gillingham and Rainham. We’ll be pouring over the proposals in detail once they’re made available.
The local plan stumbled forward slightly this week, with a meeting held in parliament to discuss it between Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst and, er, six other Conservative councillors. Given that the local plan is a vital document that will shape the direction of Medway over the coming years, it’s a shame that the direction is seemingly being directed by the Conservative benches and not a cross-party group.
Medway Labour website hackwatch, day 7182
After months and months of the Medway Labour website being hacked by someone dodgy, and the party doing nothing to fix or take down the site, councillor Tristan Osborne declared this week that something new is on the way! While we’re delighted to hear that something is actually happening, the Medway Labour group will have to excuse us if we don’t expect much this side of Christmas.
We haven’t written an actual post about the referendum, because what can you say, really? We try and remain impartial with this site, yet this was a decision we cared greatly about, and impacts our futures in a big way.
In the next couple of days, we’ll get something up on the exact results from Medway and what it might mean, but for now, let’s do what we always do: snark mercilessly about what each of the parties have been up to in the past couple of weeks.
Medway MPs in Parliament
Neverendum When it all came down it, our three Medway MPs managed to provide three different stances for where they stood on the referendum. Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst decided to focus on her career by endorsing remain, which will have seemed like a horrible mistake by Friday. Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti went for leave, which probably sets himself up nicely for this post-Brexit world. Finally, Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch decided to vote, but not tell us how. Which is absolutely her right, but we wonder how that might go down with her constituents down the line.
Medway Labour Utterly incredibly, it’s now been 17 weeks since the Medway Labour website was hacked, proving a security risk to user’s visiting, and they still haven’t managed to fix it. And yes, we are going to mention this every single time until they do something about it.
It’s hard to keep track of all of the animosity between Labour councillors and activists on Twitter at this point, but it’s worth noting that three councillors – Tristan Osborne, Naushabah Khan, and Andy Stamp – all called for Corbyn to step down this week. Which went down with certain activists like a cup of warm sick.
Medway UKIP Still missing, because.. wait, why the hell would they be missing at this point?
Medway Liberal Democrats Unsurprisingly, they aren’t thrilled about the referendum result, and dealt with it the best way they know how: a 60,000 word essay about it on their website.
Rehman probed.. It’s from the Daily Mail, so probably best you treat it with a supersize pinch of salt, but Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti is facing a formal complaint in relation to his work for a Saudi think tank. Tom Brake, a Liberal Democrat MP, has written to parliamentary authorities asking them to investigate the matter, suggesting Rehman’s often pro-Saudi comments in the Commons may be influenced by his £2,000 per month paydays from the Kingdom.
Unsurprisingly, the Investigatory Powers Bill swept through the Commons this week, after Labour decided to support the Conservatives on the mass collection of everyone’s communications data. Equally unsurprisingly, both Rehman Chishti and Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst voted in favour of the plans. It’s rather tempting to cc our MPs on every email that we send, given they’re so interested in reading the content.
Get your surplus council resources here! part II As expected, the Cabinet met this week to decide whether or not to sell seven sites around Medway for development. These range from the only disabled car park in Rochester to a building used by a charity in Gillingham to the library and community centre in Hook Meadow. Unsurprisingly, they began the process of disposal of these sites, in a move that looks to be hugely unpopular with many residents.
Medway Labour Utterly incredibly, it’s now been 15 weeks since the Medway Labour website was hacked, proving a security risk to user’s visiting, and they still haven’t managed to fix it. Yet they’d like the voters to hand them the keys to Gun Wharf.
Medway UKIP Still missing, because there’s nothing coming up that UKIP might be interested in, is there?
Medway Liberal Democrats A busy week ahead for the Medway Lib Dems as this week they’re be out both leafletting and with a street stall in Gillingham on Saturday! We can’t remember the last time they were so active.
Rehmain Rehmout Following weeks of excitemen.. mild interest, Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti finally declared that he would be campaigning for a leave vote in the upcoming European referendum. It was a slightly surprising stance for Chishti to take, as he’ll usually do exactly what his government expects of him, but he seems to think this position more fairly represents the views of his constituents.
Meanwhile, in Rochester..
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst shocked absolutely no one by declaring that she’ll be supporting the remain campaign in the referendum. This is despite the fact her constituency will be one of the most euroskeptic in the country, and that she was clearly advocating for leave during her campaigns. Of course, now she’s elected she needs to do what she can for her own career, so she’s going for remain, and has issued a statement roughly the same length as War and Peace to justify her decision.
Get your surplus council resources here! This week, the Cabinet will meet and decide whether or not to sell seven sites around Medway for development. These range from the only disabled car park in Rochester to a building used by a charity in Gillingham to the library and community centre in Hook Meadow. Most of these sales are likely to be highly controversial, but if the council is set on disposing these sites, not much will be able to stop them.
Medway Labour Utterly incredibly, it’s now been 14 weeks since the Medway Labour website was hacked, proving a security risk to user’s visiting, and they still haven’t managed to fix it. Yet they’d like the voters to hand them the keys to Gun Wharf.
Unsurprisingly, they’re grumpy about the above proposals to sell off various council sites across Medway.
That pales in comparison to their grumpiness over the reduced opening hours at the Strand Lido though.
Medway UKIP Still missing, because there’s nothing coming up that UKIP might be interested in, is there?
Medway Liberal Democrats After five street stalls in as many weeks, with a grand finale in Rochester, we can’t wait to see where the Lib Dems pop up next. Or are they all tuckered out for a while after so much hard campaigning?
REGISTER TO VOTE In case you didn’t notice, there is a referendum thing coming up in a few weeks, and it could have pretty big consequences. To vote, you need to be registered by this Tuesday (7 June), so if you’re not registered, or even unsure if you are, head over and sort yourself out. It only takes five minutes.
Quiet week in Parliament Just the Queens Speech in Parliament this week, so our MPs haven’t been up to much. In the lengthy debate that began following the speech, Gilingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti managed to ask the Prime Minister about where the line on free speech and extremism should be drawn. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer was worrying vague.
Meet new cabinet, same as the old cabinet This week, the Conservative administration of Medway Council announced who will be in the cabinet for the coming year. It should come as little surprise that the cabinet remains unchanged from last year, meaning Medway will continue to be represented by a cabinet that’s 100% white and 90% male. Just like Medway itself, obviously.
Medway Conservatives Still missing, because after winning the Police and Crime Commissioner election, there’s not much for them to do until 2019.
Medway Labour Utterly incredibly, it’s now been twelve weeks since the Medway Labour website was hacked, proving a security risk to user’s visiting, and they still haven’t managed to fix it. Yet they’d like the voters to hand them the keys to Gun Wharf.
Medway UKIP Missing, because there’s nothing coming up that UKIP might be interested in, is there?
Medway Liberal Democrats Usually, political parties out campaigning give you some nonsense about everything was so brilliant for them. So it’s refreshing to see such honesty from the Medway Lib Dems, who cheerily announced that they had “some” positive responses to their campaigning in Chatham.
If you’ve missed the previous dates on their tour, you’ve got one more chance to catch them as they descend on Rochester High Street at 10am this Saturday.
Medway Green Party They haven’t done so for several weeks, so happily the Medway Greens are once again sharing stories of opposition to the proposed option for the Lower Thames Crossing.
“This government is doing enough” A remarkable speech from Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst in parliament during a debate on immigration this week. Sticking solidly by her commitment to refuse to help unaccompanied child refugees, and that anyone arguing for the opposite is using “simplistic arguments”. After that, she managed to go off on a UKIP type rant about how we aren’t doing enough to help our own children before foreign ones, before concluding that the government is doing enough to help refugees. Her constituents can make up their mind on that. The following day, she demanded assurances that Medway wouldn’t have to take any more refugees, even if the government agreed to accept more into the country.
Following the revelations that Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti broke parliamentary rules by not declaring hospitality from Gillingham Football Club, he has now been cleared by parliamentary authorities. The authorities accepted that a genuine error was made, and no further action will be taken.
What the Dickens? A huge tourism push from Medway Council this week for their highly original programme of Dickens based events this summer, as part of the imaginatively named Summer of Dickens. Because this is Dickens Country damnit, and Medway Council won’t stop until everything in these towns is connected to the bloody guy in some way.
Housebuilding horrors In a fantastic example of getting their excuses in early, Medway Council are already preemptively blaming developers for the council’s housing needs being met. This is after the council has refused thousands of new build housing starts within Medway under pressure from local NIMBYs.
Medway Conservatives Missing, because after winning the Police and Crime Commissioner election, there’s not much for them to do until 2019.
Medway Labour Utterly incredibly, it’s now been eleven weeks since the Medway Labour website was hacked, proving a security risk to user’s visiting, and they still haven’t managed to fix it. Yet they’d like the voters to hand them the keys to Gun Wharf.
After being quiet on the issue for a while, the party are now once again moaning about bulky waste collection, because it’s an issue that really resonates with voters.
Medway UKIP Missing, because there’s nothing coming up that UKIP might be interested in, is there?