The Liberal Democrat group have outlined their shock and disappointment, as it was found that over £70,000 of council taxpayers’ money had been spent so far on processes described by the group throughout as unjust, unwarranted and unprecedented.
In August 2017, Cllr Keith Aspden was removed from his position as Deputy Leader of City of York Council and as Executive Member for Economic Development and Community Engagement by the then Council Leader. This was part of a now two-year investigative process commissioned by the Council and paid for by council taxpayers.
The allegations were made nearly two years ago and primarily related to alleged issues that occurred nearly four years ago. Councillor Aspden has already been cleared of breaches of the code of conduct for a range of unfounded allegations and his legal representatives will strongly advocate at the public hearing that there have been no breaches of the code of conduct for the remaining two allegations, which will be tested at the hearing.
A Standards Hearing, set for 3rd January 2019, will now finally receive a report on the matter and consider this in relation to the Council code of conduct.
Cllr Ann Reid MBE, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, stated:
“The Liberal Democrat group continues to be united in putting the needs of the city first and stands firm in its support for both Cllr Aspden and Cllr Ayre. It is of course right that allegations, including against elected councillors, are fairly investigated in the public interest and that due process is followed.”
“However, this has been a disgracefully wasteful and unnecessarily long process, which in our view, has not been in any sense proportionate or fair. We equally believe that the prejudicial and unjust action in removing the councillors from their Executive positions back in August 2017 was unwarranted and unprecedented.”
“There are questions to answer to ensure that in future, no other elected councillor or individual is subjected to such a public and politicised process, commissioned by the Council and paid for by council taxpayers, without the ability to respond until now. Indeed, Cllr Ayre continues to be subjected to such a process.”
“Residents will undoubtedly be shocked that their Council has so far used over £70,000 from taxpayers on external lawyers, in addition to significant council officer time. The processes have appeared, at times, to be a desperate and seemingly endless attempt to discredit local councillors. The £70,000 could have funded three much needed children’s or homeless support workers; and represents the annual council tax from nearly 70 households.”
Cllr Keith Aspden commented:
“The Council must do more to be open and transparent and accept that challenge from councillors and the media can result in improvements for residents and the City. I have never had to deal with such a stressful, prolonged and difficult process in my professional, council or personal life, with no control over the timescale involved. This process led to immediate, and without notice, removal from my job as Deputy Leader of the Council, which in turn impacted on my family and has been allowed to play out very much in the public domain, without being able to respond until now.”
“I am lucky to have a family that were able to support me financially. Having given up a professional job in 2015 in order to carry out the wide range of responsibilities as Deputy Leader, I found myself needing to ensure that I could continue to pay my bills and mortgage as the public whirlwind occurred.”
“I am grateful and thank the very many people that continue to support me; including friends, family, colleagues and local residents. I can only say that there are many lessons to learn from this ongoing process and that I hope that no other elected councillor is subjected to anything like this moving forward. I am more determined than ever to ensure that local residents and communities, including in Fulford and Heslington, are heard by the Council.”
One of Councillor Aspden’s lawyers added:
“The original accusations here related to alleged issues as far back as 2014 and 2015 and were made nearly two years ago, only after the start of a disciplinary investigation into the potential gross misconduct of a council officer. Indeed, the council’s assessment criteria for complaints is clear that events that took place more than six months prior to the complaint being submitted should not normally be investigated, without evidence of a pattern of behavior which has recently been repeated.”
“Councillor Aspden has already been clearly found to have not breached the code of conduct for a range of unfounded allegations. Following a less than ideal, slow and expensive investigation, Councillor Aspden’s case at the public hearing will be that there have been no breaches of the code of conduct, outlining a range of evidence to firmly and clearly rebut the two allegations to be tested at a hearing.”