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Was this public money well spent?

March 17, 2009

column-picture2I am told that there was an Observer online poll as to whether the recent allegations against Old Hastings Lib Dem Councillor Sue Palmer were a storm in a teacup.

I didn’t see the result of the poll, and I have not been privy to the details of the case itself, but I noted the many comments in support of Cllr Palmer following the reporting of the story in the local press.

The Standards Committee has now met and passed down its judgement.

It has been mentioned to me that their decision might have been unlawful, given the judgement in the high profile case concerning Ken Livingstone when he was Mayor of London.

In this case, you may recall that Ken had compared a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.

I am reminded that Mr Justice Collins, sitting at the High Court, stressed that the Mayor had the right to freedom of speech in a democratic society and to express his views within the law ‘as forcibly as he thought fit’.

The judge added, ‘Surprising as it may perhaps appear to some, the right of freedom of speech does extend to abuse.’

Whatever the legality, I do wonder whether (given the information in the public domain about what actually happened) the independent investigation, the inevitably lengthy document resulting, and the standards committee hearing, were a proportionate response.

Moreover, we should ask how much all this has cost local Council Tax payers, at a time when Council Tax demands are landing on our doormats and we are, again, facing rises in this as well as other bills?

Cllr Richard Kemp, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Liverpool and the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at the Local Government Association has recently called for the scrapping of the Standards Board for England (SBE) and local standards committees because he doesn’t think they are either working well, or providing value for money.

On recent evidence from Hastings, he might be right.

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